faith and foolishness

It is no secret that our materialistic, western culture has no time or interest in matters of genuine faith, unless of course we follow the acceptable party line of allowing faith to exist privately, as a talisman or a balm soothing our own frazzled psyches. Of course, there are all sorts of “feel-good” self-help ideas and techniques we are encouraged to try, and when life becomes hard and dark, we hear repeated the ever-present mantra that informs us, with artless sincerity, that we need to “have faith.” But faith in what? Faith in human ability and reason, or in human goodness, or in the goodness of the earth, or the fidelity of the universe–faith in faith. Anything but faith in a supreme Creator based on the assumption that such faith represents a connection with reality as it actually exists, despite our inability (usually) to encounter such reality through physical sensation.

And of course, for some individuals, faith is an enemy of humankind, a slog through the toxic waste of superstition and stupidity, an engine of repression and hatred through millennia of history. People who subscribe to any religious belief or spirituality deserve ridicule; or at least condescending pity. The so-called “new atheist” assault (their ideas are not necessarily all that new) on religion in general, and Christianity in particular, is alive and well and shows no sign of abating. It is not surprising that people who hold to these dogmas are intent on scandalizing and attacking “faith” with pure, empirically-proven reason on every intellectual front.

Christians stand for truth, and boldly proclaim the reality of a kingdom “not made with human hands.” Unfortunately, many believers quietly harbor fears and doubts regarding what they believe, and may even ignore a nagging suspicion that perhaps, if they were smarter and better-educated, they might actually find that their faith seemed foolish to them, too. They read about new advancements in science and technology, or ponder the worldview of brilliant philosophers, or try to engage angry and potent—and sometimes surprisingly entertaining—arguments from individuals such as the late Christopher Hitchens, and something inside just sort of wilts. But, they determine to believe, just the same, and do their best to marshal facts and evidences to buttress their faith. Unfortunately, often such people have intellectually and emotionally equated their faith with their opinions.

Let’s be clear: faith is not opinion. We are not ushered into relationship with the God of the universe, the Father of Lights, the One those image we bear, by an opinion we have formed! Opinions are necessary and we can’t come to conclusions about any aspect of life without them. Reason is vital for human life, and it is actually a valuable component of our faith. Our ability to reason is a good gift from our Creator and it enables us to sift through ideas and concepts that compete for our attention. However, we run into trouble when we insist that faith in God’s existence make a case for itself under cross-examination from our limited understanding of life in a vast and (so far, still) incomprehensible universe. Faith is not opposed to reason, but neither is it subject to reason. The honest seeker in this Internet age can find all kinds of resources that give good, reasoned answers to their questions; answers that will at least give them something to honestly ponder, even if they are not ultimately convinced.

Because, even though it rubs against our nature, the truth is that we become citizens of the Kingdom of God through faith, not with faith. In other words, we do not get to figure everything out. We don’t carry a parcel of faith as a gift for entrance into the glorious privilege of being made children of the King of kings. We do not base the reality of our encounters with him on our knowledge or our feelings. We base our hope on the sure confidence we have in God’s faithfulness. His promises are true, and he never changes.

Now, I am aware that I am arguing in circles. I am saying I have faith because it is true, and I know it is true because I have faith. Unfortunately for our rational minds, that sort of is the deal. Faith requires humility; humility conceives faith. To see with eyes of faith requires a different way of looking at our lives and ourselves. Very early in our existence, we learn that we are the Most Important Person Alive. We gain our ability to navigate life by the knowledge we discover through our five senses; and then, as we grow in intellect, we come to understand the power we have to determine our reality and truth. But pesky old faith runs counter to that very common understanding, and forces us to confront mystery and admit that we don’t have all the answers. The glorious gift that accompanies faith is that faith allows us the privilege of pleasing God, because it is admission of our own creature hood. It is acknowledgement of our limitations.

Blaise Pascal wrote in his Pensées that God “…so regulates the knowledge of Himself that He has given signs of Himself, visible to those who seek Him, and not to those who seek Him not. There is enough light for those who only desire to see, and enough obscurity for those who have a contrary disposition.” The apostle Paul told us the same thing in Romans 1:20: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made….” And over thirty centuries ago, the warrior-poet King David wrote:

The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament shows His handiwork.
Day unto day utters speech,
And night unto night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech nor language
Where their voice is not heard.
T
heir line has gone out through all the earth,
And their words to the end of the world (Psalm 19:1-4).

If we will be honest, we humans do not like the fact that we are finite, because we want to be in charge of our lives and our thoughts. The Bible teaches us that the essence of sin is insistence that I am right. I have the right to control my life and my view of reality and the world. No one can tell me how to think, how to believe, or how to act (other than obeying laws that are for the common good of society. Although some people won’t even agree to that.) Certainly there is no overriding, ultimate authority that I must answer to. Some things are true, but there is no such thing as Truth.

So ideas such as “faith” and “ultimate truth” are foolish vapor, intellectual cotton-candy for the masses who want to comfort themselves with sugary thoughts. Individuals who are truly rational are the courageous pioneers of our species, determined to live solely by intellect and reason, free-thinkers protecting us from primitive superstitions and comfortable, sculpting-clay philosophy shaped by the mentally deficient. They will not be confused or deceived by such twaddle.

But the man who insists on living by his own understanding is already confused and deceived.

The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psalm 14:1.)

You may have thought I was just like you; but I will rebuke and indict you to your face. (Psalm 50:21.)

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel. (Proverbs 12:15.)

I know these passages might seem like in-your-face, “my dad can beat up your dad” playground posturing, and it would be if God were not real. But if God is real, then in kindness, he is letting us in on some inconvenient truths, which unbelievers dance away from with their fingers in their ears, humming their own tune and refusing to listen.

Our Creator loves us. He has given us life and provided a good world for us to live in (and yes, there is tremendous injustice and cruelty, but we will discuss that soon in another post). We have been made in his image, and he cherishes every person as a unique representation of himself. He woos us with his kindness. If he chose, he could explode upon the earth with an overwhelming display of his power and glory, silencing every tongue and destroying every enemy. But he chose instead to treat us kindly, subverting our propensity for self-exaltation by humbling himself and appearing on the planet as the Man, Christ Jesus. He then destroyed our foolish pride through the grotesque and unexpected: He died a criminal’s death on a cross; bloodied, beaten, and treated with contempt. And then, with supreme, delicious irony, he returned to life, exalted beyond all measure!

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing…has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe…because the foolishness of God is wiser than men….(1 Corinthians 1:18, 20-21, 25).

And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:8-11).

Whenever we think we are getting really smart, the Lord shows us up to give us a dose of reality. In Jesus, all God’s promises and goodness are on display, and he invites those who are willing to come and receive all that he offers. It is glorious, and it is free for anyone who will believe.

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