What confirms your Christian faith? Do such things as near death experiences confirm faith for the Bible’s claim of life after death? I have a true story to share! First, a little philosophy…
Critics of the Christian faith have argued for centuries that our faith is not a “confirmed faith.” These critiques are continuing in recent years. Ironically, criticisms of belief in God as a confirmed faith by atheists is that they consistently describe faith as “blind trust.” For example, Richard Dawkins asserts, “Faith is the ultimate cop-out”. Then he goes on to describe faith as the great refusal to think and to weigh evidence.
I contend this is a great irony. Why? Because faith in God is actually based on evidence provided by experience. This evidence is checked and re-checked against new experiences all the time.
Let me explain.
Belief in everyday life
A person’s belief system is made up of beliefs of many kinds. These arise from many sources. Some beliefs are, in fact, theories: guesses made to explain something. This happens constantly even outside science and philosophy. For example, the workers in an office may notice the boss is unusually touchy today. “What’s eating him?” they ask one another. Then one of them looks out the window. She notices a big dent in the rear of the boss’s new car. She smirks and says: “I think I know what’s eating him! Get a load of the rear of his new car!” That, my friends, is a theory. It’s a guess made to explain the boss’s uncharacteristic grumpiness.
Confirmed faith is not a theory
When we speak of confirmed faith, we assert that belief in God is not a theory. It is not a guess we make and then persist in believing without evidence. Belief in God is based upon the experience of seeing the gospel to be the truth about God from God. The New Testament calls this experience being enlightened so as to have an immediate experience of God’s truth.
What are self evident truths?
In science and philosophy, this experience is called “self-evidence.” Self-evidence is not viewed as a great refusal to think or weigh evidence. In fact, the vast majority of scientists and philosophers have long acknowledged the reality of self-evidential truth. Unless they already knew truths by experiencing them to be self-evident, they could not prove anything else. The very laws of logic used to prove or disprove theories, are unproven, self-evident truths.
But there is another reason why belief in God is not blind trust. We acquire confirmed faith by experiencing its self-evidence rather than by refusing to think. Further, believers test this confirmed faith in their lives. We acquire and test our faith by receiving answers to prayer. We, as believers, find the world to be the way we would expect if it were God’s creation. And we test it with further instances of the self-evidence of God’s being at work in the lives of those who love Him.
An true story example: Death Experiences Confirm Faith
And every so often, there is a specific episode of experience that is especially significant to believers in God. Here is one of them.
Long ago, when I was in seminary, I made the acquaintance of a fellow student – Cliff Crider – with whom I formed an instant friendship. He was a good bit older than I, had a lot of experience I lacked (he was a WW II vet), and had a great sense of humor. But he also had a bug-a-boo. Despite being a life-long and sincere Christian, he hated the stories about near-death experiences. He thought they were all due to oxygen deprivation in the brains of those who had them.
Years after seminary, I phoned to say we’d not seen one another for too long, and to invite him and his wife, Ann, to visit us. Ann answered the phone with a somber tone: “If you want to see your friend again you’d better get here fast” she said. “He collapsed twice last week and the doctor says he hasn’t long to live.”
I left right away, and arrived to find Cliff in bed attached to oxygen tanks and other equipment. He said: “Do you remember me telling you that the reports of near-death experiences were all bunk? Well, the last time I collapsed I had one myself. D***** if I didn’t see a long tunnel with a light at the end. And then I saw my friend George come to me and say, ‘It’s not your time yet Cliff, you have to go back!’ I said; George, what are you doing here?” And he said: “I died last month.” When the medical technicians revived me, I said to Ann: “Call George on the phone, will you?” So Ann dialed George’s number, and asked for George. When his wife answered she said: “Sorry, but George isn’t here. He died last month.”
If even one such experience is genuine, then there is life after death. Therefore, one of the doctrines that is based on belief in God has been experientially confirmed. And this confirmation is in addition to the initial experience of seeing the gospel to be – self-evidently – the truth about God from God. That, my dear reader, is confirmed faith.