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Faith and Reason

Updated: Nov 3, 2021



Nelson Bingham

April 19, 2020

This is a trying time for all of us. As we collectively struggle to limit the terrible spread of COVID-19, one of the saddest aspects is to see some of our fellow persons of faith tenaciously clinging to their in-person worship services as expressions of their faith that God will protect them. Some of those folks explain their choice in terms of their belief in faith over the reason of science. This, of course, is only the most recent manifestation of this supposed conflict of spiritual belief versus rationality.

Another facet of this could be seen in last Sunday’s Palladium-Item. The Amish writer, Lovina Eicher, discussing the coronavirus, wrote “God will provide if we trust in Him.We know God doesn’t make mistakes so there is a reason for this pandemic, although we do not understand it at the moment. Trust and believe and have faith.” It is not uncommon for people of faith to make similar statements when bad things occur. “Why,” we lament, “would a loving God do this? What is His purpose?”

The Scripture reading in 1 Peter offers a perspective on this question. Some will say that God is deliberately testing us. I do not think such an assumption is necessary however. Rather, we should understand that adversity and pain are inevitable in our lives and the challenge for us is to respond to such adversity within the framework of our faith, which includes using the gift of Reason to guide that response. The passage from James reminds us that faith cannot be passive; it must be lived in our actions, actions that are, likewise, products of our God-given capacity for rational discernment.

Scripture Readings:

1 Peter 1:6-7 So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you

must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is

genuine.It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far

more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many

trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus

Christ is revealed to the whole world.

James 2:14-18 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but

does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly

clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be

warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what

good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But

someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart

from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works

Certainly, many of us are led by our power of reason to question things. Some questions arise out of our immediate circumstances. We want to understand why we are expected to act in a certain way. Why do we need to wear masks? Why must we stay at home? Individuals, especially in our culture, want reasonable answers; we expect to be convinced.

Of course, throughout our lives, we are drawn to think about much bigger questions. Where do we come from? Why are we here? What should we do? How do we find meaning in our existence? Why do we ask so many tough questions? At least, in the case of this last query, I want to offer an answer. To be human is to ask such questions. Human beings are endowed with two miraculous characteristics – imagination and plasticity.

Imagination enables, nay, compels us to go beyond our immediate experience, to envision ourselves at the nexus of past and future, to know our personal and collective history and to anticipate possible events to come. And, we also possess plasticity, the freedom to make choices and to literally create the future as we have imagined it. What a glorious combination!

It is no surprise that all cultures have stories of creation. Those stories arise out of these wonderful human traits, as answers to some of these powerful questions. We are told [Genesis 1:27] that humans were made in God’s “image.” This means more than simply physical appearance; it means that humans possessed the freedom to choose and the power to reason about choices. Consider how [Genesis 3:4-5] the serpent led Eve to choose to disobey God’s Will and to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge – it was reasoning that the serpent used to influence Eve. That has to suggest that Eve already possessed some capacity for reason, as she would, being made in the image of God.

Nonetheless, when Adam and Eve had partaken of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, they were different in a very fundamental way – whatever reasoning capability they had previously, that ability to think was vastly amplified by what Genesis [Genesis 2:9, 17] calls “knowledge of good and evil.” This, again, must entail a much broader transformation, a transformation into a consciousness of self. This is evidenced by their awareness of their own nakedness [Genesis 3:10-11]. But the capacity to know good and evil necessarily implies an appreciation of self, of other, and of the meaning of one’s actions, an understanding of oneself as existing beyond the immediate, concrete experience, of oneself as having existence over time and of oneself as accountable for one’s actions and choices. In short, the knowledge gained through eating the fruit must be nothing short of the capacity to create knowledge itself, the capacity to reason, the capacity to imagine. In Genesis 3:22, God says, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil…”] This knowledge includes a sense of time and of oneself as situated within a temporal series of events, a consciousness of past and future that enables (or forces) humans to comprehend the reality of their own mortality, of their own death. And it is death, according to the psychologist Erik Erikson,that gives meaning to life.

And so, it all begins – this human gift of reason. Now, the Biblical account of creation does not answer all of the questions that the human mind is capable of generating. For example, Cain took a wife from the land of Nod. Where is that and what is Nod’s relationship to God’s creation of the Garden of Eden? We don’t know. On the other hand, lest the skeptic feel too smug about this limitation of Scripture, we might note that science, that great cathedral built by rationality and logic, offers us the Big Bang as its answer to the question of where we come from. Imagine (and consider how miraculous it is that you can do so) all of the Universe compressed into one unbelievably tiny and unbelievably dense mass which explodes outward with such force that it continues moving outward so many eons later. Is that really more reasonable to believe than the Biblical story of creation? How can we know what is true?