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Confirmed Faith

Confirmed Faith is not blind trust

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

What are self evident truths?

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. 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 example from a friend

Near Death Experience

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. Damned 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.”

Confirmed faith is genuine faith

Experiences such as this are not had by every believer, but they are far more common than most people suppose. The question they pose for atheists is this: granted not all near-death experience are genuine. Yet, what evidence have you that none of them are?

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.

Faith and Doubt

The title of this blog is only three words long. But the two nouns, faith and doubt, are among the most misunderstood in the English language. The biggest misunderstanding takes them to be opposites that cancel one another.

Let’s start with Faith.

Faith is the term commonly used today to name a state of mind. That state can be found lurking between being sure of something and outright rejecting it. The faith state of mind is that of partly believing and hoping that a promise will be kept – or something close to a promise. Faith is belief in a sports analysis of our favorite sports team that picks them to win the championship this year. The partly believing and hoping is counterbalanced, in the popular idea of faith, with a measure of uncertainty and doubt.

Faith usually has a more serious meaning when we use it for the trust we place in a person. In these cases, it’s not a stated or implied promise we bank on, but another human in whom we place our confidence to do the right thing at the right time. Even when used of persons, though, it still includes an element of uncertainty. We trust the guy, and we hope he’ll succeed, but we’re not sure he will.

Confusion Arises Here

The most confusing thing about these usual senses of “faith” is that they are not what the New Testament means when it speaks of belief in God as Faith! The fact is, New Testament writers such as Paul, and John, and James, gave the term a brand-new meaning. Previously in the Greek language, Faith had not carried this new meaning. When using it of belief in God’s reality, they spoke of faith as certainty derived from experience. This why we find them saying, “the gospel is something in which we have faith.” Their usage also includes a new sense of “certainty by experience” that we call “know-for-sure.”

Faith or Doubt in God’s Promises

Of course, they also at times use “faith” to refer to trusting in God to keep his promises. This is one of our usual meanings of “faith.” So one looks at the context in which the word is used to be sure what is meant. When it concerns God’s reality, it means that we know it for sure. When it concerns God’s promises, it means we should trust him because he has been faithful to his promises in the past. But since we have not yet seen the promise kept, it is trust that is less than knowing-for-sure.

Faith and Doubt

So how does doubt fit into all this? Is doubt the opposite of faith? Is doubt a sin?

First, with respect to belief in God’s reality, sincere believers who have experienced God’s reality for sure can still be assailed by doubt. The theologian, John Calvin, wrote that a believer’s life is a constant struggle with doubt. But he also noticed that doubt and genuine belief often exist in the same person at the same time. There is nothing impossible about that. The opposite of fully trusting a promise or person is not doubt, it’s disbelief. Which is why being sure of a belief or person doesn’t require lacking doubt, but means being certain beyond any reasonable disbelief.

Another Meaning

There is another sense of doubt, however, that doesn’t concern God’s reality. Rather, it focuses on our reliance on his promises. In this matter, too, doubt often assails believers. But these instances are more serious, according to the New Testament. That’s because these are occasions when people are quite confident that God is real. Nevertheless, they fail to trust God to take care of them. In reality, temptation comes in the form of doubt. And they (we) really doubt him.

I think that’s what James is talking about when he says that believers should ask God to take care of their needs. James instructs believers to “ask in faith without doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.” He goes on to add: “a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.” Such a person “ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord.”

So it turns out

So it turns out that simply being assailed by doubts that God is real is a common experience of believers. And that experience can take place while still holding fast to his reality in full faith-confidence. But the more insidious and dangerous doubt feeds on a genuine anomaly of belief. This doubt infects the belief that God is real with the doubt that he cares for his people and will do what he’s promised. We call that double-mindedness. And double-mindedness undermines a person’s walk with God.

 Roy Clouser