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Knowing Why We Believe
Dr. Os Guinness
I remember a student who dropped by our home some years ago on his way around Europe.  Almost immediately he began to share with us his intense enthusiasm of his newfound faith in Christ.  After listening for some time, I began to grow uneasy.  I felt suspicious that his faith, though enthusiastic, was almost entirely groundless.  Eventually I asked him how he had become a Christian and why he had believed, and then asked him how he would answer some of the questions that his forthcoming semester at a French university was bound to raise.

Finally with great reluctance, I warned him that his faith seemed to have very little foundation.  And that unless he had more understanding to match his enthusiasm, he was in danger of being tripped by the questions of life - not to speak of his follow students.  He listened politely, and if he showed no concern, at least he took no offense and we parted on good terms.

Within a month I received a letter, short and to the point.  "I'm writing to tell you that I no longer believe in God or consider myself a Christian."  And then after a brief explanation, "The only reason I write to you is that you warned me this would happen." For every person who experiences what this student did, countless others are potentially as vulnerable.  It is only their sheltered lives that keep them from facing
the same problem.

I cannot emphasis this point too often: understanding Christians know not only what they believe but why they believe.  They are able to say that what they believe is true, and behind such a statement they have sure and sufficient reasons of which they are fully persuaded.

When someone has faced the critical nature of his or her dilemma without God and has come to recognize that if God's revelation is true there is a meaningful answer to their dilemma, then the next urgent question is: But how do I know God's revelation is true?

If the searcher finds no answer to that question or if the question is not encouraged (or still worse, not allowed), then the searcher may become a believer, but he or she will be constantly at the mercy of the
potential doubt that faith is only make-believe.   He or she will never be certain that it is not a form of psychological wish-fulfillment and that belief in God is not purely a result of a need for God - a faith for
foxholes, a God of the gaps, a crutch.

This doubt is hardly new, but today's intellectual climate provides an ideal breeding ground, and it has come into its own again.  It is a very damaging doubt that needs to be blocked firmly by a decisive
reaffirmation of what it means that the Christian faith is true.

The Christian faith is not true because it works.  It works because it is true.  No issue is so fundamental both to the searcher and to the believer as the question of truth.  The uniqueness and trustworthiness of
the Christian faith rest entirely on its claim to be the truth.  God, who is the Father of Jesus Christ, is either there or he is not there. Either he has spoken or he has not spoken.  What his revelation claims is
either true or false.  Jesus Christ either rose from the dead or he didn't.  There are no two ways about it.  This stubborn insistence on truth is one thing that lifts the Christian faith out of the common pool
of completely personal, relativistic, subjective beliefs.

Naturally the stronger the claims to truth that we make for the Christian faith, the stronger our substantiations must be.  The Christian faith is not true because it makes its claims more boldly or loudly than anything else (or belief would be overtaken by bravado).  If it claims to be true, it must be willing to show the areas in which the evidence for its claims can be examined and found to be true.  At this point the Christian faith is not only willing it is eager.  The Christian faith invites people to an examined faith.  Although we Christians should believe simply, we should not "simply believe."  For one thing the pale brand of modern faith that lapses into "easy believism" has little in common with the virile attitude of understanding-plus-commitment that is the biblical notion of faith.

Is truth merely a brittle recitation of facts?  A sterile compliance with logic?  Far from it.  Passion for truth is passion for God.  No wonder our Christian responsibility is to understand and be able to express what
we believe and why.  Or, as the Apostle Peter expressed it, "Be always ready with your defense whenever you are called to account for the hope that is in you." If you hear someone claiming to believe something but even after listening carefully it never becomes clear exactly what he or she believes, or why, you are surely entitled to wonder if the belief is valid at all.  Unless our Christian faith includes this level of
understanding, we are short changing ourselves.

[A qualification must be added here.  People often misunderstand the rationality of faith.  They imagine that they believed in God because  faith is rational - which it is.  But they then expect every aspect of
faith to be equally open to rational investigation - which it isn't.  So when they come across the first mystery they can't understand, they conclude that the Christian faith is irrational after all.  God has led
them to believe it was rational, but now apparently he has cheated them by unfairly slipping in a mystery.

What they forget is that rationality is opposed to absurdity, not to mystery.  The rationality of faith goes hand in hand with the mystery of faith.  The fact is that the greatest mystery of all - the Incarnation-
comes at the beginning and is the central reason why we believe in God. We cannot explain it: That is the beginning of the mystery of faith.  But because of the evidence neither can we explain it away: That is the
beginning of the rationality of faith.

Again, rationality is the alternative to absurdity, but it has no quarrel with mystery.  Mystery is beyond human reason, but it is not against reason.  It is a mystery only to us and not to God.  Where God has spoken and spoken clearly, rationality comes into its own; where God has not spoken, or for his own reasons has not spoken clearly, there is the area of mystery.]

We should all examine the foundations of our faith.  Why do we believe God is there?  Why do we believe God is good?  How do we know Jesus ever lived?  How do we know Jesus rose from the dead?  Why do we trust the authority of the Bible?  How do we understand that the Christian faith is true?  How would we answer a modern philosopher, a Freudian psychologist, the follower of an Indian guru, each of whom denies the truth of the Christian faith in a different way?

The challenges to faith will go on and must go on being answered.  As we face the issues and questions before each of us now, do we know why we believe?  Are we able to relate and apply faith to life without
suppressing questions and without unnerving our security?
Trinity Forum  -  Washington D.C.


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