Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Hebrews 11 and "blind faith"

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)
This passage is one of two (the other being the "Doubting Thomas" passage) that are used to support the idea that "blind faith" is not just your garden-variety virtue, it's the ultimate virtue that a Christian can and should posses. In fact, many would agree that what defines a Christian is (1) blind faith and (2) the appropriate target of that blind faith.

Hogwash. If blind faith was what God demanded, scripture would be quite short: Just believe. Don't ask why.

As is often the case in questions such as these, strange bedfellows are discovered when one yanks back the sheets. Arguing for the "blind faith" position are both anti-IDers and fundamentalist Christians.

Anti-IDers often append to a critique of ID a parting shot along the lines of: and not only is it bad science, it's bad theology too, because Christianity is all about faith, not about evidence, so IDers aren't just crappy scientists, they're lousy Christians too!

From fundamentalists, the canonization of blind faith stems from an anti-science position: Science is evil, it promotes evil ideas (e.g., an old earth) therefore the senses are not to be trusted--just believe in the interpretation of scripture we promote.

I have often written something that, judging from emails, I know people tend to dispute: fundamentalism is a form of liberalism. That's right: Bob Jones University is liberal--because liberal, in terms of theology, means man-centered as opposed to sola scriptura. Fundamentalism both adds to scripture (in the form of legalism) and takes away from scripture (mostly resulting from its overly-simplistic hyper-literal hermeneutic.) Well here is something else that may surprise you about fundamentalism: it leans toward the Gnostic. Like Gnosticism it demonizes the physical realm and emphasizes "special knowledge." The special knowledge of fundamentalism goes by the name: blind faith.

If you use a Greek Lexicon, you'll find that faith (pistis) is in fact related to trust and is never described as "believing in things for which there is no evidence."

In the bible, faith goes way beyond believing (even the demons believe.) Faith means: I don't just try to obey God because I know I should, but I obey because I believe His plan is good. When a Christian is told to live by faith, it is not intended that he should abandon his intellect and distrust his senses, but rather that, given God's law has been written on his heart, he should live as if he trusts that obeying that law is not just the correct but also the wise thing to do. That is what biblical "faith" is.

When the Jews of the exodus got in trouble for their failure of faith, it was not because they stopped believing in God. It was because they stopped believing that God's plan was good for them. When Peter's faith failed (on two well-known occasions) he didn't stop believing in Christ, he stopped trusting him.

So what about Hebrews 11:1?

Hebrews 11 is the faith "hall of fame" chapter. The "unseen things" for which the inductees' faith is being honored is the finished work of Christ--which would have been impossible for them to see, given that the writer is referring, throughout the chapter, to Old Testament saints. Among those being honored for their faith include Moses, Abraham, Jacob and Gideon--four of the most famous saints for whom God, upon request and without admonishment, provided direct physical evidence of himself on multiple occasions.

The message of this chapter is: Abraham (for example) was saved (as any Christian) by his faith in Christ, even though he could only look forward to a messiah rather than back. He did, however, speak to God, and he is one of those about whom the faith in Hebrews 11:1 is being credited, so, in context, it obviously is not referring to "blind faith in God".

You may argue--incorrectly but at least sensibly--that the post-apostolic Christian has to rely on blind faith. However, you must have an answer for why the writer of Hebrews sings the praises of the faith of men who, given that they interacted with God directly and witnessed miracles, had no need for blind faith. Far from being a proof-text for the virtue of blind faith, Hebrews 11:1, when taken in the context of the entire chapter, places "salvation by blind faith" in a wooden box and then nails the lid down tight.

I have posted this list before, but add it here, as an appendix, because of its relevance. These are some scriptural examples that demonstrate that God does not demand blind faith, and that He has no problem with physical evidence.
  1. In the book of Judges, Gideon asks for multiple physical proofs that God was God. The proofs were given. The bible doesn't add: and Gideon, after serving his military purpose, was cursed for demanding proof.

  2. When Moses asked to see God's glory, God complied with the request. The bible doesn't add: And Moses' inability to rely solely on blind faith is the real reason he wasn't allowed into the Promised Land.

  3. Psalm 19 teaches that the heavens declares God's glory. The bible doesn't add: but only as a crutch for the weak-minded.

  4. When Jesus forgave the sins of a lame man, he then healed the man. The bible doesn't add: and for those who required the latter, let them be anathema, but rather Jesus said it was so we may know the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.

  5. When Jesus appeared to the disciples after the resurrection, they thought they were seeing a ghost. He showed them he was flesh and blood, and that he could even eat. The bible does not add: and their rewards in heaven were diminished because they relied on physical proof.

  6. Paul writes, in the letter to the Romans, that since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made. The bible doesn't add: but pay attention to that physical evidence at your own peril. Instead, Paul adds that the reason for this (scientific data) is so that men are without excuse.

  7. Even in the case of "doubting" Thomas, where Jesus allows Thomas to examine His wounds, and even though Jesus blesses those who believe without seeing, the bible does not add: and Thomas was cast out for his reliance on proof.

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