Everyone lives by faith. Even the atheist. It is an inescapable reality of life on planet earth.
We must all live by faith because none of us knows everything. Were we all-knowing, as the Bible declares God to be, faith would be quite unnecessary. Faith addresses things we believe but do not absolutely know to be true. Faith is inextricably woven into the fabric of our daily lives. In May of 2000 my wife, daughter, and I boarded a Boeing 777 and flew for over 12 hours twice (to and from Japan) with a belief that the plane would safely reach our respective destinations. In business we sign contracts making long-term financial commitments with a belief that we will be able to pay or get paid, depending upon which side of the deal we stand. We buy advance tickets to concerts, plays, and sporting events with the belief that we will be well and otherwise able to attend.
Faith is no longer an issue once I have stepped into the terminal at the destination airport; then I know. I need no faith when the contract is completed; then I know I have given or received what was expected. Faith is no longer an issue once the concert or the game is over; then I know whether or not I got my money’s worth.
We can be so confident of faith issues, have amassed such subjectively strong supportive evidence, that we would say we “know” such and such. I do. For instance, I could be heard saying “I know there is a God.” When I make such a statement, however, I don’t mean that this reality has such objectivity that it is inarguable, that no one could possibly dispute my “knowledge.” No, firm as it is, it is my belief. And, in honesty, I must say that the firmness of my belief waxes and wanes and has, at times, seemed to disappear in the wake of deep disappointment.
Such shifting moods affected the great Christian writer, C.S. Lewis. Listen to him: “Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable.” He goes on to say, “That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you can teach your moods ‘where they get off,’ you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist.” (Mere Christianity)
Remember now – the Hindu, the Buddhist, the Muslim, and even the atheist are in the same “faith” boat with you and me. To be sure their faith is different, but it is faith nonetheless. The style and destination of our boats are different, but they are faith-boats nonetheless. The Hindu cannot prove reincarnation any more than I can prove the resurrection. An atheist cannot prove there is no God any more than I can prove God’s existence. We each have our beliefs, and only when the ultimate consequences of our respective beliefs are ours will we actually know. A split second after I die I will know whether or not the dead know anything. Furthermore, I will know how accurate my beliefs were about life after death, good and evil, heaven and hell.
Let me share briefly what I do know. I know that (in my sixties, with most of my life already gone) the length of time I will have lived on earth is not long enough to satisfy something inside me. The Bible says that God has “set eternity in the hearts of men” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Inside me is a recognizable desire to live forever. This desire is qualified though; I want to live forever in a perfect place. I really don’t want to live forever here!
Another thing I know is this: something is wrong with me; I must admit I am morally flawed. Forget your standards, society’s standards, my parents’ standards, church standards and even Bible standards; I violate standards within myself, standards that are a part of my heart. I know I should be better than I am. I also know that common human games have not helped me: games like denying or minimizing this condition of my heart or the popular game of comparing myself to people who obviously appear to be much worse than I (Thank God for Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and others like them; stood aside them, most of us appear so good as to be downright acceptable!).
It is my belief that the Bible is the Creator’s revelation of His person and His will to mankind. What I know is that within its pages I have found a constitution for living my life that resonates with much that resides deep inside my heart. Like most of you, I have been hurt by religious people, even real Christians. I’ve even been wrongly hurt by spiritual leaders who had been given the charge of caring for this little sheep. Like many others, I have also been perplexed and confused by the diverse doctrines within the sects of Christianity. What I know is that my approximately 40 years of walking with the God of the Bible and the people who embrace Jesus as Lord and Savior has blessed my life in countless ways. Apart from my Christian faith, not only would I not have any of my closest friends, but I would not have my best friend – my wife. Furthermore, without my best friend, I would not have three of my four children and five of my seven grandchildren. These things I know!
Most assuredly, I am pretty ignorant. They fill libraries with stuff I don’t know. We are all forced to live with our ignorance, in that regardless of how much we may know, there is always far more we do not know. (There are no “know-it-alls”; the term only refers to those obnoxious folks who act like they know everything.) Much of what I am ignorant about, of course, others know. Yet some of what I don’t know, no human really knows. So, I am forced to live by my beliefs. Since we only know the absolute validity of our beliefs after they have been tested, and since the testing of our beliefs can have profound consequences, with appropriate seriousness, I am constantly refining my belief system for accuracy. And, I trust Jesus as Lord, even of my ignorance.
Scientific man says “seeing is believing”; not only the Bible but our very own experience teaches us that we will never see some things unless we believe in them first. The electric light, for instance, would never have been created unless Edison had first firmly believed it could be made. I not only advocate but practice walking by faith not by sight. To be perfectly honest, I prefer walking by sight; but I have come to see that walking by faith is not bad. In fact, you and I do it every day. It is as natural as breathing.
To walk by faith versus sight does not mean we are irrational, that there is no reasonableness to what we believe. Faith matters are supra-rational. The Bible provides many truths that cannot be naturally known, yet are necessary for our life journey. Prophetic revelation offers us the “stepping stones” necessary to leave the firm shore of our genuine knowledge and successfully venture into the unknown without drowning in a sea of damning ignorance. In addition to informing us about things we could not naturally know, biblical revelation warns us (at no cost) of many things that we can and often do learn experientially, but only at great cost. Faith, then, is that kind of belief that leads me to step out on those “stepping stones”, only seen with the eyes of the heart, only proven after I have placed my weight fully on them. Those “stepping stones”, though invisible to the natural eye, are substantive, not imaginative.
Scripture says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb 11:1 NKJV). The Greek word translated “substance” is a compound of two other Greek words which mean “a setting under (support) [Strongs Exhaustive Concordance]. Bible-based faith is God’s provision of something of substance to stand on and a roadway to walk in. By faith, we must choose to stand on that revelation and walk in it.
If you have not yet, I hope you will embrace this faith life, becoming more comfortable with it as “God’s Way” for all mankind. By embracing I certainly mean something beyond merely putting up with the faith life. And let us not be intimidated by the fact that we cannot absolutely prove the tenets of our faith to those who prefer to walk by their doubts than walk by our faith. I think it bears stating that most of us are a curious blend of faith and doubt. To have faith is not to be without doubt; rather it is to choose faith over doubt. Remember the father of the boy who was tormented by an evil spirit (recorded in the 9th chapter of Mark). The dear man asked Jesus to help “if He could.” Jesus said, “Everything is possible for him who believes.” Speaking honestly with Jesus, the man said: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” There you see that mix of belief and unbelief to which at least I can relate. We also see a man choosing his faith over his doubt. This is, in part, what Scripture means when it refers to “the fight of faith.” (1 Timothy 6:12)
Finally, I encourage my fellow Christ-followers to engage in the spiritual, intellectual and social disciplines necessary to continually refine your belief system. Please heed the Apostle Paul’s godly counsel to all who desire to diligently serve God with their lives: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15 NIV). The exercise of such study was not intended to operate in isolation, dear friend; it was intended to be done while vitally connected in relationships with others in the Body of Christ. Thus, the Scriptural admonition to “forsake not the assembling of yourselves” means far more than “don’t miss church” (Hebrews 10:25). The text refers to a variety of social disciplines (developmental activities involving relational interaction with other believers, like Bible studies and spiritual discussions) offered in the Body of Christ to help us grow in faith and knowledge. I encourage you to fully embrace these.