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Why Reason Needs Faith

mere christianityI was in ninth grade when I read Mere Christianity for the first time. C. S. Lewis compiled the book “to explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times.” Nowadays, he’s better known for The Chronicles of Narnia than his extensive works in apologetics, the defense of faith. I remember struggling through a few pages of Mere Christianity every night before falling asleep. I’ve never opened the book since.

That is, until my life group decided to study it this fall. Now that I’m older, it’s strange how simple Lewis’ reasoning and examples seem. The whole book is fascinating, though one chapter in particular has captured my interest. Lewis describes the concept of faith in a way I have not heard anywhere else. Instead of pitting reason and faith against each other, he argues they are allies.

The real threat to reason is emotion, not faith. A person does not necessarily go on believing something is true because evidence convinces him. Sometimes emotion overwrites evidence and stirs up doubt. For instance, when someone decides to believe in Christianity based on its weight of evidence, Lewis predicts, “There will come a moment when there is bad news, or he is in trouble, or is living among a lot of other people who do not believe it, and all at once his emotions will rise up and carry out a sort of blitz on his belief.”

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Credit: Elise Communications, courtesy of The Hagley Museum and Library (https://flic.kr/p/7BR5JE)

Fresh evidence must be evaluated, of course, but regarding runaway imagination and emotions, Lewis calls it a virtue to keep faith in what reason told you is true. In his own words: “Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.”

So faith becomes not about denying reason but rather the inconstant emotions that try to overthrow belief. This kind of faith is important to both Christians and Atheists alike, otherwise everyone would change their minds arbitrarily, depending on their mood of the day.

This definition of faith seems closer to what we now call being faithful. To be faithful is to be constant and steadfast. A faithful person keeps their commitments in spite of their emotions. A husband and wife may be overjoyed the day they commit their lives to each other, but they may feel quite the opposite by their one-week anniversary. We call spouses faithful when they choose to love even on the bad days. Perhaps that’s why “faithfulness” is listed in the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23).

I had faith in Christ before I ever applied reason to his claims. But when I did…reason strengthened my faith. I remember the thrill of discovering that I didn’t have to deny my questions or doubts, that God had answers for skepticism, that he encouraged me to seek them out (Matt. 7:7-8).

After a while, I had enough encounters with God that apologetic arguments seemed superfluous. Nothing felt more natural than to believe. But that doesn’t make me immune to bad days. Lewis’ prediction still rings true for me…and every other Christian I’ve had the privilege to know. We all have days when none of what we believe feels right anymore, regardless whatever rational thinking first introduced us to belief.

On those days, we have to rely on faith to carry us through. Faith keeps us trusting in Christ, believing he loves us even then. I imagine it isn’t much different from the virtue that holds a husband and wife together “until death do we part.”

Let love and faithfulness never leave you;
bind them around your neck;
write them on the tablet of your heart. Proverbs 3:3

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Posted by on December 5, 2015 in Books

 

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You’re Waiting for a Bus

WAITING FOR THE BUS-ON NICOLLET MALL - NARA - ...

WAITING FOR THE BUS (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had my directions written on a folded scrap of lined paper. Four rows of departure times, stop locations and route numbers scribbled in pen. I couldn’t help but check the directions again, as if I had already forgotten which bus I needed next. The transfer center was mostly quiet compared to my first two stops. Not as many people walked by here, and only two men waited with me at transfer zone H. Even the buses seemed like soft-spoken metal dinosaurs, as I hardly noticed their gentle rumblings.

I had made it through half of the directions without trouble, with two buses down on a three-hour trip to see friends. I read The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis along the way, a fictional book about a bus ride from Hell to Heaven. My trip could not be compared to leaving Hell to see Heaven, but I still enjoyed the idea of reading about a bus while riding buses. I finished the small book by the time I returned home, and it is recommendation worthy whether you travel by public transit or not.

My second bus arrived about 20 minutes before my next scheduled departure. As I waited to cross the street from zone J to zone H, I idly noticed the bus P2 S 19th/Bridgeport – Lakewood via TCC passing by. When I came to the zone H sign, I pulled out my directions to compare with the route numbers. I stared at the sign long enough for a man nearby to ask which one I wanted. None of the routes on the sign seemed to match my scribbled directions. I needed P2 S 19th/Bridgeport – Lakewood via TCC, the same bus I saw leave 20 minutes before the time I had written.

Doubt did not need any greater invitation. Maybe my directions were wrong. I was supposed to be two buses and an hour away from my friends in another city, and now I wondered if I would have to ask those friends to pick me up in the transfer center. I would be stranded until they could find me.

A bus stopped and opened its doors. The driver stared at me as I checked my directions again and told him the bus wasn’t my route. I decided to wait on a bench and listen to my mp3, remembering my sister’s warning earlier that morning to not talk to strangers. If someone comes up to you on the street, just ignore them, she said. I thought that seemed rather unkind to other people and a way to miss opportunities to serve God. But then, as I willed for my bus to arrive, I suddenly felt afraid of someone stopping to talk to me. Alone in an unfamiliar city, I felt vulnerable. A man walked by and told me to smile. I pulled some sort of grimace, and he continued walking, saying, “There you go. There you go.”

I checked the time. My bus was still not due for another five minutes. I wondered about the possibility that the routes or times had changed without being updated on the online trip planner I had used. Maybe the directions would have been right a few months ago but were useless after some transit rescheduling. Despite the nagging doubts, I resolved to wait until my departure time. If the bus didn’t arrive, what would I have lost in waiting? I would call my friends and make a new plan.

On the exact minute in my directions, P2 S 19th/Bridgeport – Lakewood via TCC coasted into zone H. I jumped up from my seat and rushed to the bus, anxious to not be left while also relieved my directions had been right. As I boarded, I realized my doubts had come from unfounded fear. I never needed to worry.

Metaphors jump out at me from everyday moments, and this one was no different. Just as I doubted whether I had the right directions and if I could get where I wanted to go, I also needlessly doubt God’s directions for my life. I often wonder if I heard him correctly or if I will like where he takes me. Many Christians I know have the same fears. They ask about God’s will and how they can be sure. They doubt the bus they need is coming.

But God will not leave us stranded. We only need to trust his wisdom and guidance, and he will drive us to the destination that is better than any place we would have chosen on our own. Why should we worry? He has given us our directions.

 
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Posted by on August 10, 2012 in Other thoughts

 

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Christian Reading: The Greatest Hits

Your next summer read may be in this post. As promised, I have some book recommendations to inspire you. This top 10 list comes from the pastor of my sister and brother-in-law. In no particular order, Pastor Jason recommends these summer reads:

  1. Too Busy Not to Pray by Bill Hybels
  2. The Life You’ve Always Wanted by John Ortberg
  3. If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat by John Ortberg
  4. Chasing Daylight by Erwin McManus
  5. Crazy Love by Francis Chan
  6. Sun Stand Still by Steven Furtick
  7. Searching for God Knows What by Donald Miller
  8. Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis
  9. Letters from a Skeptic by Gregory Boyd
  10. Knowing God by J. I. Packer

I have read three of the above books (5, 7 and 8) and can say they place on the list for good reason. It’s a safe bet that the others have equal “top 10” merit. After all, if the entire list is the same quality as Searching for God Knows What, anyone who has been reading this blog knows it would be a life-changing summer if someone read the whole list.

Do you think there are books missing from this list? What other books should a Christian read over the summer? I mean besides the obvious one too great to even compare with others. Seriously, comment with your favorite Christian reads.

And while you’re commenting anyway, maybe you can answer a question that came up with a couple friends this weekend. They were wondering who the contemporary, big-name Christian authors are. Those authors whose books become fodder for church small groups and they get invited to speak at every Christian conference in the nation? Who are those authors who everyone seems to talk about? Let’s start a list.

 
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Posted by on July 30, 2012 in Books

 

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Love Isn’t Always a Chick-Flick

I finished reading The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis while riding a bus into downtown Seattle. I told you a month ago that I bought this book at Powell’s Books by a friend’s recommendation. It was a good read with plenty to think about on every page, so it takes some time even though it is only 141 pages. My strategy was to read a few pages at a time while eating breakfast, or riding the bus when I only had half a chapter to go.

If you’ve never heard of this book, C. S. Lewis describes and analyzes the four main categories of love that humans experience. He calls these: affection, friendship, eros, and charity.

  • Affection generally applies to relationships like between parents and their children where the love is demonstrated as care and concern. In these relationships, affection is taken for granted and assumed to be something inherently deserved (a parent is expected to care for the child).
  • Friendship is usually seen between members of the same gender, according to Lewis, and it forms because the friends find something in common that separates them from other people (like stamp collecting or the dream to start a petting zoo).
  • While friendship is focused on some common outward direction, Lewis calls an inward-focused love “eros.” “When I spoke of Friends as side by side or shoulder to shoulder I was pointing a necessary contrast between their posture and that of the lovers whom we picture face to face,” Lewis writes. Romantic lovers share eros. When we talk about “falling in love,” we mean “eros.”
  • Finally, there’s charity. Out of the four loves, Lewis says this is the only one that doesn’t come naturally. It instead comes directly by God’s grace to be either given or received.

Charity is probably the one love our culture commonly ignores beyond the rest. Listening to popular music and watching recent movies, it would seem as if we worshiped eros. Interestingly, Lewis says friendship is equal to eros and as necessary. Affection, too, is important. But above these, charity deserves the most notice, if only for its distinctiveness of coming directly from God.

God is compared to the roles of a Father, a Friend, and a Lover, but he actually shares charity with us instead of any of the other loves in our world. Often, he loves us in this way through other people. “In reality we all need at times, some of us at most times, that Charity from others which, being Love Himself in them, loves the unlovable,” says Lewis. “But this, though a sort of love we need, is not the sort we want. We want to be loved for our cleverness, beauty, generosity, fairness, usefulness.” So even though charity surpasses the other loves, and in fact, imitates the love of God himself, it’s still the one we neglect.

God is love, and Lewis says, “He communicates to men a share of His own Gift-love.” Charity seeks the good for a loved one that the loved one may not necessarily want or ask for, but it is no less good for the loved one. And with charity, we have the grace to love anyone even despite lacking anything that could make them deserving of love. “Divine Gift-love in the man enables him to love what is not naturally lovable; lepers, criminals, enemies, morons, the sulky, the superior and the sneering,” says Lewis.

We also have grace to love God back. “There is of course a sense in which no one can give to God anything which is not already His; and if it is already His what have you given?” says Lewis. “But since it is only too obvious that we can withhold ourselves, our wills and hearts, from God, we can, in that sense, also give them.” That’s what Christianity is all about, isn’t it? To be loved by God and to love him back?

 
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Posted by on June 29, 2012 in Books

 

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Road Trip Thoughts and Powell’s Books

Again, I must apologize for an unannounced hiatus. I graduated from Whitworth University on May 13 and only now could breathe from the final sprint before graduation. Of course, homework and my internship don’t sound like much of an excuse to put off a commitment to regularly update my blog. But then again, a student majoring in Journalism with a Theology minor tends to get overwhelmed with reading books and writing about them, so I feel the hiatus was justified. It’s not like I was being lazy.

Guilt aside, a road trip after graduation also felt well-deserved. I toured Washington’s west coast in a week-long, whirlwind trip with eight other students from a prayer group at Whitworth. “Prayer group?” you ask. Yes, these guys are Jesus Freaks like I’ve never met before. The group started a year ago in Spring semester to pray together every night for each other as well as the whole campus. I got introduced to the group in January and have made close, hopefully lifelong friends. Not everyone from the group could make it to the road trip, but to give you a taste of how wonderful these people are, I’ll tell you we spent a week together in a 12-seat van and still loved each other by the time we separated. No one complained or fought even once. We laughed, we prayed, we shared everything (food, water, sleeping bags, etc.), and felt blessed through it all. That briefly describes the group and our trip without fully explaining the powerful experience of knowing these people and living with them for a week.

But that is a story too long to share here, so I will continue to what is related to this blog. Most of the people who went on the trip are book lovers. This meant every time we saw a bookstore, we’d have to fight the temptation to lose several hours inside. While we didn’t allow ourselves to get distracted, we did schedule in a drive to Portland for the purpose of visiting Powell’s Books. If you have never heard of Powell’s Books, it is book heaven. You can find anything that interests you within its several floors and color-coded sections. I’ve visited Powell’s once before, and both times, I managed to lose all of my available time within the “Christianity” bookshelves.

This time, I got caught up examining the C. S. Lewis shelves with one of the other students. He kept pulling out books he recommended for me, but I couldn’t buy them all. Even a C. S. Lewis fan has to budget her money. I did leave with a used copy of The Four Loves, though. More on that once I finish reading it.

Something else that caught my eye at Powell’s was their new “Espresso Book Machine,” which prints books in the store on demand. A pamphlet about the press explains, “The EBM is a dynamic new tool for both readers and authors alike, providing opportunities throughout the community to anyone who wishes to print their own writing or simply obtain a difficult-to-find book.” Powell’s takes orders either in the store or at ondemandbooks.comWhile we were there, the EBM started printing a WWII journal a man had that belonged to his grandfather. A crowd gathered around the machine to watch the book come together. Even with the rising popularity of e-books, there’s still demand for real paper books.

 
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Posted by on May 22, 2012 in Other thoughts

 

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Theology is a Scary Word

The term “Christian theology” is not as straightforward as I had thought.

My blog’s banner says, “Thinking about faith, publishing and Christian theology.” The “About” page goes into more depth on what that slogan means to the blog, but even there, I assume you know what I mean by “Christian theology.” A bad assumption.

Spring semester classes just entered their second week at my university. I am particularly excited about this semester because my classes cover all the fields of my academic interest. There’s a couple major classes in journalism and communications, there’s an English creative writing course, there’s one with a practical focus on the work of the Church, and then I have Christian Theology. Yes, it’s a class.

Now the first thing we addressed (besides, you know, the class syllabus) was what “theology” means and how people react to it. If you bring up theology in conversation, some people give you a blank stare before asking why you are talking about rocks. Then, you have to politely repeat for them, “I said theology, not geology.” I get that happens. Other people I meet generally don’t have as much interest let alone knowledge of theology as I do. I think that’s sad because I really don’t know that much and it must be one of if not the most important topics for people to discuss. But it never occurred to me that people, including Christians, could have a negative outlook on discussing theology.

We tested in class different objections to theology. When we came to our professor’s argument in defense of theology, it boiled down to people not understanding the difference between “good” theology and the “bad.” My professor explained, like many other things in life, theology can be abused and distorted, but that does not mean theology cannot be useful when treated properly. He summed up theology as “speaking about God by following after what God has already said about himself.” It’s human thinking in response to revelations God has given us. Literally, “theology” means the “science of God.”

My professor suggested a synonym for Christian theology: witness. Basically, theologians ask questions and seek to know God better. Through this, they are a testimony to others. Christians who participate in theology learn more about their faith, the Church, and who God has shown himself to be. This means we can defend our faith, aid the Church, and be a testimony to the world of the living God.

Not only are there such benefits to studying theology, Christians can suffer from a lack of theology. IMere Christianity, C.S. Lewis explains the danger of avoiding theology:

In other words, Theology is practical: especially now. In the old days, when there was less education and discussion, perhaps it was possible to get on with a very few simple ideas about God. But it is not so now. Everyone reads, everyone hears things discussed. Consequently, if you do not listen to Theology, that will not mean that you have no ideas about God. It will mean that you have a lot of wrong ones — bad, muddled, out-of-date ideas. For a great many of the ideas about God which are trotted out as novelties today are simply the ones which real Theologians tried centuries ago and rejected. To believe in the popular religion of modern England is retrogression — like believing the earth is flat.

The point is “Christian theology” shouldn’t be intimidating. It is a gift God hands to us so we can get to know him better, not in a cold analyzing of theories, but through questions that build our relationship with our Father.

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2012 in Other thoughts

 

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C. S. Lewis Part 2: An Answer to Prayer

The search continues.

With a little googling, I found another essay on prayer by C. S. Lewis. This one, titled “The Efficacy of Prayer,” printed in another collection, The World’s Last Night and Other Essays. You can read the essay on Scribd, so you have no excuse to miss out. I’ve never heard of Scribd before, but apparently it’s “the world’s largest social reading and publishing company.” Sounds interesting. I’ll take another look later.

But back to Lewis. “The Efficacy of Prayer” again tackles (or at least arm wrestles) the two patterns of prayer the Bible gives us. He focuses more this time on the confusing connection between praying and getting what you ask. He starts off by making the clear conclusion that prayer isn’t something we can test and prove scientifically. We can’t run experiments to see whether prayer actually does anything for us.

Lewis suggests it might help comparing prayer to our usual requests of other people. One example he uses that I particularly liked was a man asking a woman to marry him. Even here, there is no way to prove causation between the proposal and engagement.

“As for the lady who consents to marry you—are you sure she had not decided to do so already?” Lewis wrote. “Your proposal, you know, might have been the result, not the cause, of her decision. A certain important conversation might never have taken place unless she had intended that it should.”

An accurate observation, Lewis. Well done. He then draws the relation between asking something of your lady friend and requesting something of your Lord. We must have the same doubt of causation when we receive something from God. Our prayer may have already been something he intended to give us. Going on, Lewis points out that really we shouldn’t even discuss prayer as in whether it “works.” That suggests that prayer is some form of magic to use to get what you want. Lewis corrects this thinking.

“Prayer in the sense of petition, asking for things, is a small part of it; confession and penitence are its threshold, adoration its sanctuary, the presence and vision and enjoyment of God its bread and wine,” Lewis wrote. “In it God shows Himself to us. That He answers prayers is a corollary—not necessarily the most important one—from that revelation.”

So petitionary prayer is interaction with the living God, not a scientific process that obtains wishes. God isn’t a genie. And here comes my most serious question: “Can we believe that God ever really modifies His action in response to the suggestions of men?”

As Lewis explains: “For infinite wisdom does not need telling what is best, and infinite goodness needs no urging to do it.”

Why would God need or want to hear human requests? What good could they do? Then again, God often uses finite means to carry out his infinite will. He allows us to act in his plans, even though an all-powerful god would not need our help. He allows us to impact the world with our actions.

“It is not really stranger, nor less strange, that my prayers should affect the course of events than that my other actions should do so,” Lewis wrote. “They have not advised or changed God’s mind—that is, His over-all purpose. But that purpose will be realized in different ways according to the actions, including the prayers, of His creatures.”

We are not watching a movie of life without any power to decide the story. We are players in the greatest video game. God allows us choices. Even with this understanding, Lewis still resists a firm conclusion like he did  in “The Problem of Petitionary Prayer.”

“The reality is doubtless not comprehensible by our faculties,” Lewis wrote. “But we can at any rate try to expel bad analogies and bad parables. Prayer is not a machine. It is not magic. It is not advice offered to God. Our act, when we pray, must not, any more than all our other acts, be separated from the continuous act of God Himself, in which alone all finite causes operate.”

To leave off, he dispels one last misunderstanding. He says answered prayers, when we receive what we requested, do not prove a stronger relationship with God. The example of the Son of God in Gethsemane should be enough to show this. If God refused Jesus, how can we claim a stronger faith is necessary for answered prayers?

C. S. Lewis has covered most of my struggles with prayer and at least eased them if not gave me a complete assurance. His reasoning makes sense and has given me a new perspective to consider. I agree with his half-hearted conclusion that we can never fully comprehend the reality of God’s world. There will always be questions, and I can be content with that. What would life be like without a little mystery? The point is to keep asking the questions and trust that one day God will help me understand.

The search continues.

 
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Posted by on January 12, 2012 in Books

 

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