When I was about 14, I was an active evangelical evangelist at my school. Yep, I was that guy with a WWJD bracelet (What Would Jesus Do) and even a Christian T-shirt depicting the sword of the Spirit. Naturally, that led to some discussions with fellow classmates about the existence of God.

In one slightly heated debate they cried out: “So where is your God? Where does he live?” I didn’t really know how to respond, so said something from the gut: “He lives in your heart!”, and demonstrated it by pointing to my own blood-pumping muscle. I was pleasantly surprised with my spiritually-sounding answer. The pleasure was only for about 2 seconds, when I was met with a lot of laughter. “Really? What a small space. Left chamber or right chamber? Haha, what nonsense”.

It actually hurt me deeply. Others trampled in laughter on the faith that formed my entire life. Who cares if I gave an answer that secular materialists going through puberty did not comprehend? God was surely much bigger than their laughter. The only reason they could mock me, is that God gave them a mouth in the first place! (or so I thought).

For me, faith was a warm blanket, the Holy Spirit working inside of me; it was the assurance of eternal life. It was complete trust in the Father, Son and Spirit. It was the certainty of things unseen. It was my life.

The Challenge

It may therefore not be surprising that most of my Christian friends and family respond to this aspect of ‘faith’ that I lost. A couple of comments that I have received after declaring my lack of faith, some of them a bit hostile even:

  • “What do you believe now? Come on, we all need to believe something!”
  • “You say that a legitimate worldview must be based on reason and evidence as much as possible… Why? What an assumption. What arrogance! What blind faith you have!”
  • “As a Christian, I acknowledge that I don’t have all the information to answer all of my (or your) questions, and so I must trust God and have faith that God is God.”

What is the issue with faith? Why is it so important, and is speaking about faith often so difficult once you don’t share the same faith anymore?

What is Faith?

For starters, why not ask Google? This is what it comes up with:

faith_dictionary

Where We All Have Faith

The above definition shows that there are different kinds of faith, and yes, in some respects I do have a lot of faith.

  • We usually have faith in other people, especially those close to us. We can’t always prove their trustworthiness; neither do we feel the need to prove that on a daily basis!
  • I firmly believe in a lot of abstract concepts: love, kindness, empathy, justice, et cetera. Notice how it is natural to say ‘I believe in love’, but it sounds strange to say: ‘I have faith in love’. Love would need to be a real thing (instead of an abstract concept) in order to be able to trust in ‘it’.
  • We trust that medicine will indeed get you better, even when we don’t fully understand it ourselves. It falls under ‘a strongly held belief or theory’, for example: “The faith that the doctor will be able to cure me”.
  • None of us know everything first-hand, from an all-knowing perspective, so we all need to exercise a leap of faith in order to do anything at all in life. Even to get out of bed, you need to have faith that the floor is real and will hold your weight.

So some people conclude: oh well, we all need to make a choice about faith. I believe in God. You believe in reason and science. End of discussion.

But I don’t think that is not the whole story, nor is it quite that simple.

The Christian Concept of Faith: Trust

When we look at Google’s definition of faith, we see an interesting phenomenon. When I was a believer I would prefer to describe my faith in God not in terms of the second definition: belief in God through spiritual apprehension. No, it was more mature to say it is trust in the person of God. It wasn’t just a theory; it was a relation, a trust-based relationship; just like we have with friends, family, spouse, et cetera. But magnified by ten times more trust. Friends can fail you, family can let you down, but God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. This is a cornerstone of Christian faith: trust in the person of God.

Here Comes the Tricky Bit!

Christianity ties the second form of faith (the belief in a theory about God) to the first form of faith (the trust in a person) in almost every imaginable way. It thereby creates a system in which the theory of God can never truly be questioned, because we trust Him. To question the core of your faith is to question God, to question Jesus, to question the Lord of the Universe, and your best friend (if you are evangelical). To question faith is to risk eternal damnation.

  • Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
  • For we walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Cor 5:7)

All of your questions are fine as long as they lead to trust in God, for He knows best. This is the key part.

Nerdy Diagrams

Enough words. How can we put this together in a nerdy, poorly designed diagram?

 faith2

Visual 1: Deflection

Because faith in God is faith in a person, a lot of believers do not feel the need to defend their faith. After all, “the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight” (1 Cor 3:19).

You think you made a really good argument against Christianity? “The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them” (Psalm 2:4)

This worked for me. When I read anti-Christian material, it just made me laugh, even when I had no real counter-argument. “Such fools! They don’t understand a thing about my God”.

(Notice how this could be the same for a good attack on specific scientific theories, where certain atheists scoff at those questioning these theories)

 faith1

Visual 2: Have some respect!

Because trust in God is the basis and outer shell of protection of Christian faith, any non-Christian will always have to cut through the layer of trust to get a Christian to doubt their beliefs. This is vital to understand, because it will rarely succeed. You will most likely only have insulted the other.

For example, a conversation between a non-believer and a Christian about whether or not heaven exists is doomed to fail. The Christian will (subconsciously) trust God for His promise of eternal life, much more than any rational argument that he or she can conjure. The non-believer on the other hand is thinking he is debating with an idea, while he is actually unknowingly insulting peoples’ trust in God.

End result? Heated hearts, no winners.

I have been there myself, and I know how it feels when somebody attacks your beliefs from the outside and it does get through the layer of trust. It feels terrible. Believe me when I say that I find it often hard to create this blog, knowing that I may temporarily break through this barrier and cause pain. But somehow I feel the need for people to be able to express where I may be wrong. In a way, I still want to verify the trust I once had in God, to see if there are any reasons at all to bring it back.

The only way I started to doubt my beliefs, reasons and dogma was through arguments from the inside. By staying within the circle of people who trust in God, yet have different views. By thinking about my beliefs by myself. Ironically, by reading the Bible. This may lead to the following situation:

faith3

Visual 3: The ‘mature’ faith

While some people only reinforce their own beliefs; others do have internal doubts, questions, and they often start to become more liberal. The denomination they were once part of, is no longer the One True Church, for example. Perhaps gay marriage isn’t the ushering of the end of the world. Perhaps it is a bit hard to know whether or not to baptise an infant. They become less focused on dogma, and more focused on trust in God.

When I look at modern Christianity for example, there is a whole movement of ‘doubting’ Christians, like doubt is the trendy thing to have. To be rock-solid in your faith is not so trendy among the intellectuals, I suspect because it not postmodern, which is the culture in which we live. So people start to doubt creation, the flood, the literal inspiration of the Bible, substitutional atonement; basically almost the whole deal. Instead, they become more action-focused.

I have been there. It feels good yet weird at the same time. Your faith is no longer ‘clear’. You start to dislike those people who have it all figured out, and place great value in freedom, respect, authenticity.

Other Christians were sometimes a little worried about my doubts, but not too much. I wasn’t worried about my doubt too much. I was trying to look for answers, but I actually felt I didn’t even fully need the answers. Why not?

Because of the standard, ever-powerful answer: Why don’t you trust God?

If you are “in” this system, it feels great. But looking at it from the outside, it forms an (almost) perfect self-reinforcing system. One needs to have faith; and once you have it, you need to have a lot of balls to say that you did not receive it from the Heavenly Father in this trusting relationship.

This can go on for a long time. Perhaps even a lifetime.

faith4

Visual 4: The End of Faith

For me, the purple inside (questions, doubts) where rationally speaking more than enough to burst through the green layer of trust in God. I had very little reason to trust God anymore. But the less reason I had, the more faith I needed! This was a very strong force in my life:

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.” (Habacuc 3:17-18)

Until the questions became so big, it took one emotional event to hit me and blow away that very trust. That was the moment everything came crumbling down, and the tension that was build up on the inside was finally gone (in a matter of a day, really). God was simply not who I thought He was. And after a few weeks, He didn’t exist necessarily at all anymore. All those doubts were no longer tests of my faith; they were pointers to something else: to a reality outside of my faith in God. For me as a believer, this was the impossible that could never happen. Yet it happened. The One who said that He would never lose one of His sheep, lost me.

Leaving faith in God is like leaving your parents. For some this will be a gradual process, for others it will be a sudden announcement of their parent’s death. For none it is fun. For all, it feels like we are more mature, for better or for worse.

I hope you get it. I have respect for your faith, if you have any. I am just trying to explain what happened to me. The trust that kept me in was nothing but a coping mechanism after all.

But What about Faith in Science, Reason and Evidence?

So now I explained how this Biblical concept of faith kept me a Christian. But what about the other way around? Don’t I have blind faith now in science, reason and evidence? I get this argument thrown a lot at me.

Yes, I have faith in reason and evidence, but I consider it a very different kind of faith than faith in God. For starters, they are not even fundamentally incompatible… there are so many Christian scientists. Here are my other reasons:

  1. I don’t trust in reason and evidence like I trust in a person. They are merely ideas, and they can be challenged at any time. I don’t have “faith” in Albert Einstein like I had “faith” in Jesus.
  2. Science should be continually questioning itself. Even the very philosophy of science is a shifting field, so our understanding of it changes continuously as well. It is simply our best way to try and make sense of the world, with the best methods we can think of.
  3. Science doesn’t have an answer to all my questions, like God is supposed to be able to. And that is fine. “I don’t know” is the most honest answer to a lot of questions, especially the ‘why’ questions.
  4. There is no threat of damnation, or promises of an afterlife with faith in reason, evidence or science.

In other words, I believe all ‘faith’ of the second category (religious or strong beliefs) can and should be continuously approached with critical analysis rather than admiration. Trust should play a little role in finding out the truth, unless you don’t really care about the truth. Hence the freethinking. Hence questioning everything. Hence the scepticism.

Difficult? Yes.

Worth it? Absolutely.

Lessons learned

What are the take-away lessons from all of this?

  1. However much we would like to be objective, debates about faith issues run far deeper than the actual arguments and reasons used.
  2. Christian faith, and faith in science are two very different types of faith; it could be argued they don’t even occupy the same domain (thereby you can have Christian scientists)
  3. Because faith for Christians is in a person, attacking their ideas is also attacking that person. It is similar to mocking their friends or parents. You need to make very clear this is not your intention, or just refrain from doing it altogether.
  4. If a secular person says they do not have “faith”, they mean they do not have faith in any supernatural entity that cannot be observed. Do not start to play word games on other meanings of faith, and then just assert we are all in the same boat.

 

Appendix.

You don’t believe that faith in God is something different than faith in reason and evidence? Or you don’t understand why having faith is so important for Christians, instead of relying on plain evidence? After all, if you have proof, you don’t need faith.

Just check out what the Bible says about faith:

  • Faith is confidence, assurance, understanding:
    • Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Heb 11:1)
    • “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible” (Heb 11:2)
  • You are condemned without faith, but gain eternal life through faith
    • Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ (Gal 2:16)
    • And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Heb 11:6)
    • For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
  • You can’t just choose to have faith, it comes from God
    • For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph 2:8-9)
    • No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. (John 6:44)
  • God always knows better, distrust your own reasoning and observations:
    • Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
    • For we walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Cor 5:7)
  • By faith you can do miracles:
    • “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mark 11:22-24)
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