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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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Choosing Between the Plane and the Freefall

There were fourteen people squashed inside the back of the gutted airplane. We couldn’t see much out of the windows. The smoke from Eastern Washington’s summer fires had finally rolled over the Cascades. Seated behind me, my tandem instructor said he would normally point out the nearby islands but they were lost in the grey. I nodded, a little disappointed we wouldn’t have a view for what was coming next.

“Spotty” asked me why I had decided to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. Good question.

“I like heights.” Besides, it seemed a better option than whitewater rafting. “You’ve got to choose something,” I said. Why not skydiving?

A cloudy view.

Spotty had been skydiving ever since his first jump for a hospice’s charity event.

“What’s your favorite part?” I asked him.

“Jumping out.”

Funny. That was the part my friends and I were most afraid of. If there was any point likely to test our courage, we felt sitting at the open door looking down at miles of open air would be it. Self-preservation tells you to stay seated. Courage is all talk until there’s nothing holding you up.

It wasn’t exactly the freefall that scared me though. I knew that part would be amazing. It’s called “the ultimate freedom” for a reason. I knew I would enjoy the flight up and the fall down, but it was the transition between the two that had me worried. Maybe it’s the self-preservation instinct, but I think it’s because I hate change.

I wish I had Spotty’s attitude in the rest of life. He didn’t choose either the plane or the freefall but rather the moment in-between. He had already jumped at least nine times that day, but it was still his favorite part of every trip. Lately life has felt like skydiving tandem with God, and I still dread the leaps of faith. I know I like where I am, and I know I will like where God calls me to next. Both are great. It’s just the in-between that terrifies me into paralysis.

Cross arms. Look up. Say a prayer.

Cross arms. Look up. Say a prayer.

When it came to it, I didn’t actually jump. And no one asked if I was ready. Instead, my instructor told me to put my arms in the “safety position”– crossed over my chest, like a dead person. We dangled our legs out the door. He told me to lean my head back and look up. And he pushed us off. One moment we were seated safely on the plane and the next we were plummeting through free air, 13, 500 feet off the ground.

Switching between the plane and the open air caught my breath. I couldn’t think, only react. So I screamed as loud as I could in the rushing air. It was as much from overwhelming joy as awe and terror. After the first few seconds of shock, I could put thoughts to what I was feeling: “This is really happening! I’m really here! This isn’t a dream! This is AMAZING!”

Flying with Spotty.

Flying in the airplane–seat-belted in safety–was a fun ride. The tandem instructors were cracking jokes. The new skydivers were nervously laughing. We had a pretty view of the ground through the windows. But skydiving…that was exhilarating. So much better than the airplane.

In the Christian life, there’s a similar choice of experiences. I could be safe and have a pleasant life without ever taking risks for Christ, but I don’t believe that’s the kind of life God wants for me. The other choice is to go all-in, giving up everything and following Christ whatever the cost on an adventure beyond my imagination. Too often, it’s tempting to settle for less than the exhilarating ride God offers. I pray that he will give me the courage to sit on the edge, the faith to look up, and the trust–when the time is right–to be pushed out.

“My lips will shout for joy,
when I sing praises to you;
my soul also, which you have redeemed.”
Psalm 71:23
When has God told you to jump in faith? Did you let fear keep you in the airplane, or did you jump gladly, trusting in him?
 
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Posted by on September 1, 2015 in Other thoughts

 

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“The One” Doesn’t Exist

Acquaintances and casual friends think I’m so stable. They make me laugh. Inside, it’s a non-stop tilt-a-whirl ride.

But just last week, I attended a seminar that helped to ground me. How? The speaker rejected the myth of “The One.” Addressing a small crowd of singles looking for love, he said, “There are literally hundreds of people you could have a very happy marriage with.”

I wanted to shout, “Hallelujah!” But this is the Northwest, not the Bible Belt.

Even though I consider myself a romantic, I gave up a long time ago the idea that there is only one person in the world to make me happy. I believe that having happiness in marriage has less to do with destiny and more so stubborn effort and a whole lot of grace. So an arranged marriage could be as fulfilling as a love marriage. Theoretically. But my actions have not matched my beliefs.

Listening to the speaker, I suddenly realized I have acted as if afraid to miss “The One.” I overthink, overanalyze, and overly obsess over the young men I meet and our every interaction. Sometimes it’s all I can do to whimper to God the monosyllabic, Help.

Other times I am more like the disciples shouting, “Don’t you care if we drown?” (Mark 4:38).

Credit: Abaconda Management Group, https://flic.kr/p/bdq7j6

Credit: Abaconda Management Group, https://flic.kr/p/bdq7j6

Then Jesus stands up, tells off the wind like disciplining a naughty child who knew better, and commands the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” (Mark 4:39).

Suddenly there is peace. The clouds are still there, but it has stopped raining.

I sit down with Jesus in the gently rocking boat, and he asks, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:40).

At the seminar, the speaker’s words had the same effect.

The One doesn’t exist. And if that’s true, how should that change my fear? How should that impact my faith?

I’ve believed for so long that there was no Prince Charming coming to rescue me. Now the realization finally came that I can stop worrying about missing the prince’s white horse. There is no white horse to be waiting for.

What if marriage is more like a train leaving at 12 o’clock sharp? The train will leave without me if I’m not there when the conductor shouts, “All aboard!” But the thing is…there will be another train tomorrow.

The lie is that I need to seize onto every opportunity that comes along, any eligible young man who looks my way, or risk missing the one who is meant to be my life partner. If I don’t smile just so…walk over there…start a conversation…laugh at his jokes…look pretty… So what? Qué será, será.

It’s been fifteen years since I trusted my pastor to dip me in the river as a sign of my new life in Jesus. Rounding so many years of faith, I’m still learning to trust God. Every morning, I have to let myself be dipped in the waters all over again. Let go, he tells me. Why are you so afraid?

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2015 in Other thoughts

 

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