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Why do Christians rely on faith rather than reason?

What is faith healing?

Why does God insist that we have faith?

Why do Paul and James appear to present contradictory views on faith and works?

Why do Christians rely on faith rather than reason?

The premise to this question is a misconception based on a misunderstanding of what faith is. Faith is thought of as an arbitrary choice often in defiance of the facts. The term "blind faith" is used to describe wishful thinking winning out over reason. But Paul defines faith as "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen."[1] One needs substance to make an argument and evidence to prove a case. Faith is a supernatural means of obtaining or confirming facts from which a rational decision can be made.

Consider two examples in the Gospel of people noted for having faith. The first is the centurion who called upon Jesus to heal his servant[2]:

And Jesus saith unto him, "I will come and heal him". The centurion answered and said, "Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, 'Go', and he goeth; and to another, 'Come', and he cometh; and to my servant, 'Do this', and he doeth it." When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, "Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel...Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee." And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour.

Why did Jesus say that the centurion had great faith? In this scenario, the healing of the centurion's servant was already given - "I will come and heal him". It was the centurion's subsequent statement that Jesus need only give the word that marked his faith as extraordinary. The centurion's faith was in the range of God's power and in Jesus' status and authority. He also knew from his own experience the nature of authority. From that knowledge base he made a logical deduction and in making his statement acted according to his faith.

Another example is the woman who was healed of an issue of blood[3]:

And, behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem of his garment: For she said within herself, "If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole." But Jesus turned him about, and when he saw her, he said, "Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole." And the woman was made whole from that hour.

Perhaps she knew the prophecy of Malachi[4]:

But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings.

In the Hebrew Bible, the last phrase literally reads "with healing in the folds of his garment." Based on her knowledge, she made a rational conclusion and acted accordingly.

In contrast the generation of Israelis who under Moses were delivered from slavery in Egypt, demonstrated the irrationality of unbelief. Time and again God demonstrated his power in unprecedented ways[5] - in parting the Red Sea[6], appearing wrapped in a cloud at day and fire at night[7], providing the manna in the desert[8]. Seeing these great miracles, it would have been reasonable to conclude that a God willing and able to help them in such great ways, would continue to do so. Indeed, they thought so at first[9]. Nevertheless whenever they faced difficulty thereafter, they complained against God rather than trust him to provide for them[10].

What is faith healing?

The term faith healing is somewhat vague as to the source of power. It should be understood that it is God who heals[11]. Faith in God completes the point of contact for anyone who wants to receive something from God[12]. For some reason, people tend to find it easier to have faith for healing than for provision or deliverance from peril. In the Gospels, every instance where Jesus credits someone for having faith happens to concern healing, except for one which concerns salvation[13]. When he reproves for lack of faith it concerns something other than healing[14]. This may be why faith is so often associated with healing. However, rather than faith healing scripture really teaches faith living[15] of which one benefit is healing[16].

Why does God insist that we have faith?

People place faith in each other all the time. Without such faith, no one could conduct their life in a practical manner. No one insists on personally conducting experiments to confirm every scientific principle. Instead we accept such principles and act on them, because we judge the persons who discovered and proved them to be reliable, and judge the people who communicated those ideas to us to be reliable messengers.

Yet when it comes to God and matters of spirituality, many people demand such proof[17]. But are such demands truly based on a healthy skepticism, or indicative of an unreasonably negative bias? If we do not take such a demanding stance with each other in everyday life, why should we take such a position toward God?

If a natural proposition is extraordinary or counterintuitive, it warrants more scrutiny before it can be judged. Even a preposterous idea, when dismissed summarily, is done so on the basis of familiarity with the realm that the idea concerns. Often, fatal errors are made when key information is rejected because it goes against preconception or is alien to one's personal experience, rather than evaluated carefully for its veracity. Recorded history is replete with examples. Arbitrary rejection of a possibly viable idea is as irrational as arbitrary acceptance of a false one.

Furthermore, if an idea warrants investigation before it can be accepted, then why should anyone passively demand proof? If the information concerns something vital (like eternal life), it merits active investigation. Taking a passive stance reflects an emotional distaste for the idea or its consequences and a wish that the idea just conveniently go away. One who values truth will investigate the idea further and objectively consider what he finds. One who fears the truth is inclined to avoid facing it.

This is the very position that God takes toward us.

The LORD is with you, while ye be with him; and if ye seek him, he will be found of you; but if ye forsake him, he will forsake you [2 Chr 15:2].

And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart [Jer 29:13].

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him [Heb 11:6]. 

This search for God and resulting willingness to have faith in him, distinguishes a person who desires good from one who prefers evil[18]. It is not that God is so hard to find, or that spiritual things are that difficult to discover, but rather this preference for good or evil that defines us and our fate. Consider again the generation of the Exodus discussed in the first question ("Why do Christians rely on faith rather than reason?"). They had ample and visible demonstration of God's power and benevolence[5] as well as his very presence[7]. Yet most rebelled to the point of insurrection[19], because they preferred a lives of evil indulgence in Egypt even as slaves[20], rather than trust their well-being and happiness to God.

Faith is not merely synonymous with belief, but also linked to loyalty [or faithfulness - you won't find the word loyalty in the KJV translation of the Bible[21]]. That loyalty is founded on trust in the integrity of one's lord or friend, particularly with respect to him keeping his word. Concerning faith in God, we are not after all judging merely the plausibility of an idea or a tradition, but the character of a person. Whether or not one has faith is based on his judgment of who God is, whether he judges God worthy of his trust[22]. It is this personal judgment, rather than a test of plausibility, that drives one's decision to belief in or reject God.

Why do Paul and James appear to present contradictory views on faith and works?

Again, the notion of contradiction between two doctrines of justification by faith (as presented in Romans and Hebrews[23]) and justification by works (as presented in James) arises because the nature of how faith and works relate to each other is either misunderstood or misrepresented. It is a cause and effect relationship. Faith is not merely acknowledgment of a creed, but a motive for action[24]. Hence what one does is indicative of what he truly believes[25]. This is the James argument.

A careful and objective reading of scripture reveals that James does not denigrate faith, but sees it as producing works. Neither does Paul discount works. We are saved by God's grace and access to that grace is obtained thru faith in Jesus Christ. Yet by that very same process of salvation, we become doers of good works. Paul wrote the following:

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them [Eph 2:8-10].

The idea that Paul and James were at opposite ends of a great theological debate among the apostles on justification is unfounded. In fact the great issue of their day was whether believers who were not Hebrew should be required to keep the law of Moses, and the ultimate decision was that they need not, except on four matters. In this James (and Peter) supported Paul's position[26].



[1] Heb 11:1

[2] Mt 8:7-10,13; also see Luke 7:1-10

[3] Mt 9:20-22; a more detailed account is in Mark 5:25-34 and Luke 8:43-48.

[4] Mal 4:2

[5] Deut 31:10-12 - And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, in all the signs and the wonders, which the LORD sent him to do in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh, and to all his servants, and to all his land, and in all that mighty hand, and in all the great terror which Moses showed in the sight of all Israel.

[6] Ex 14

[7] Ex 13:21-22 - And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night: He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.

Also Ex 19:6 - And the LORD said unto Moses, "Lo, I come unto thee in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with thee, and believe thee for ever."

[8] Ex 16:13-15 - And it came to pass, that at even the quails came up, and covered the camp: and in the morning the dew lay round about the host. And when the dew that lay was gone up, behold, upon the face of the wilderness there lay a small round thing, as small as the hoar frost on the ground. And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, "It is manna": for they wist not what it was. And Moses said unto them, "This is the bread which the LORD hath given you to eat".

[9] Ex 4:13 - And Israel saw that great work which the LORD did upon the Egyptians: and the people feared the LORD, and believed the LORD, and his servant Moses.

[10] Ex 16:2-3; 17:1-3; Num 11; 14:1-4. Note Num 14:11 - And the LORD said unto Moses, "How long will this people provoke me? and how long will it be ere they believe me, for all the signs which I have showed among them?"

[11] Ex 15:26- I am the LORD that healeth thee.

[12] Mk 11:22-24 - And Jesus answering saith unto them, "Have faith in God. For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them."

Heb 11:6 - But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

Ja 1:6-7 - If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.

[13]

Incidents in the Gospel where Jesus commends for having faith.
Reference Incident
Mt 8:5-13; Lu 7:1-10 Jesus heals the centurion's servant.
Mt 9:1-8 ; Mk 2:1-12; Lu 5:17-26 Jesus heals a man of palsy.
Mt 9:20-22; Mk 5:25-34; Lu 8:43-48 Jesus heals a woman of an issue of blood.
Mt 9:27-31; Mk 10:46-52; Lu 18:35-43 Jesus heals Bartimaeus and two blind men.
Mt 15:21-18 Jesus heals/delivers the Canaanite woman's daughter.
Lu 7:36-50 Jesus forgives sinful woman at Simon the Pharisee's house.
Lu 17:11-19 Jesus heals ten lepers.

 

[14]

Incidents in the Gospel where Jesus reproves for lack of faith.
Reference Incident
Mt 6:25-34; Lu 12:27-31 'Lilies of the field' discourse concerning God's provision.
Mt 8:23-27; Mk 4:35-41; Lu 8:22-25 Jesus calms the storm at sea.
Mt 14:22-32 Jesus and Peter walking on the water.
Mt 16:5-12 Jesus warns his disciples about the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Mt 17:14-21 Jesus delivers a man from lunacy.

[15] Hab 4:2 - ...the just shall live by his faith. [Quoted in Ro 1:17, Gal 3:11 and Heb 10:38]

[16] Ps 103:2-5 - Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits:

who forgiveth all thine iniquities;

who healeth all thy diseases;
who redeemeth thy life from destruction;

who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies;
who satisfieth thy mouth with good things;

so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

[17] Jn 4:48 - Then said Jesus unto him, "Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe." Also Jn 6:20 - They said therefore unto him (Jesus), "What sign showest thou then, that we may see, and believe thee? what dost thou work?"

[18] Jn 3:19-21 - And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.

[19] Num 16

[20] Num 11:5 - We (Israel) remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic; Num 14:4 - And they said one to another, "Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt."

[21] In New Testament Greek, the words for faith (pisteuo) and faithfulness (pistos) are derived from the word for belief or being persuaded (pistis).

[22] Heb 11:11 - Through faith also Sarah herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.

[23] By tradition, Paul is the author of Hebrews, though he does not explicitly identify himself in the text. See About the Bible

[24] Below is a look at the examples of faith cited in Hebrews 11 and what that each person's faith led the person to do.

Person Action Reference
Abel offered a sacrifice Heb 11:4
Enoch pleased God (so was translated) Heb 11:5-6
Noah prepared an ark Heb 11:7
Abraham went to an inheritance in a foreign land Heb 11:8-10
Abraham offered Isaac Heb 11:17-19
Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau Heb 11:20
Jacob blessed his sons Heb 11:21
Joseph gave commandment concerning his bones Heb 11:22
Moses forsook Egypt Heb 11:24-27
Rahab received the spies Heb 11:31

 

[25] Ja 2:18 - Yea, a man may say, "Thou hast faith, and I have works": show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works.

[26] Acts 15:1-21