Saturday, September 24, 2011

Faith vs. Reason

Last week someone told me of a perplexity in her Christian life. She was doing something she thought was right, but her actions were getting her in trouble with others. She asked two godly people for counsel. One of them told her she needed to stop what she was doing. The other said that she was doing the right thing and needed to continue.

It is usually wise to seek godly counsel, but this time she was confused. I told her that when this happens to me, God often is trying to teach me to seek His will alone, and not to rely on others.

While I don’t know the hearts of those who gave this conflicting advice, I do know my own heart. Sometimes the eyes of faith see one clear way, but the eyes of reason cannot make sense of it. This happens to God’s people. Consider Abraham when God tested his faith by sending him up a mountain to sacrifice his son. That made no sense. For one thing, God forbade human sacrifice. However, Abraham trusted Him and did what God told him. Of course, at the last moment God stopped him from killing the boy and explained the test. For that, Abraham is called the Father of faith. I’m not sure what I would have done. Maybe I would give in to reason, which likely is why God has not tested me like this.

Ezra, another leader in the Old Testament, also struggled with faith and reason. He was taking a group of people home. They had been released from their captivity in Babylon. However, the way was filled with robbers and enemies. He sought the Lord on the matter.

Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods. For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, “The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him.” So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty. (Ezra 8:21–23)
Reason said that robbers and marauders would harm them and that the king would have given them soldiers for protection. Faith said God could and would protect them. Faith and reason were in conflict.

Mix into that one more conflict. Ezra had told the king that his God would take care of him. Asking the king for soldiers would be hypocrisy, a denial of his proclaimed faith in God. It seems that Ezra’s pride was involved, but true faith is not about pride. How can any sane person be vain about trusting God when it makes no sense at all to trust Him?

I’ve had this happen in small and big concerns in my own life. One time it was about a house that we hoped to rent. Someone else got there first, so reason said getting that house was out of the question. However, faith persisted. I knew that house was ours, and in a few days the call came. The other deal fell through and the house was indeed ours.

Faith is not presumption. Presumption does not see or consider the negatives. It is based on wanting something so bad that no other options are considered. Faith is more about knowing in your heart that God is true — when your head says you are daft. 

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)
These words in this verse, assurance and conviction, both find their source in God. That is, faith’s assurance comes from Him, not merely from our desires. The normal idea of hope is “I hope so. . . .” but in the Bible, hope is not like that. It is more like the inheritance written in a will that has not yet been bestowed, but it is mine. It is like being given the deed to a house that I’ve not yet moved into, or the keys to a car that I’ve not yet driven. Biblical hope is a sure thing, and assurance is that knowledge that it is certain. It is being convinced or convicted that even though I cannot see the money, or the house, or the car, I know it is mine. It is being totally certain of whatever God says He will do, because it is God who said it.

This is what faith is — knowing God and what God wants. Reason may shake that assurance and argue with it, but the heart knows. Abraham knew God and knew that He would keep His promises to give him grandchildren from his son. If he sacrificed the boy, he had no idea how God would do this, but he knew that He would. Ezra also knew that God would take care of them. Reason said the odds were against it, but when pitting God against odds, God wins.

My friend must seek God to find out what He wants her to do. Reason works to trip her up, but once she gets His word on the matter, her confusion will go away. It may be impossible to comprehend how that can be possible while in the middle of the muddle, but once faith takes over, God is able to make sense of nonsense and give reasonableness to anything that at first seems unreasonable.

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Father, I’m so glad that my faith does not depend on my own ability to reason or figure things out. Because of sin, reason is flawed. Pride, I-wants, fear, logic and all sorts of supposing can lead me off in many directions too. Yet Your instructions are almost always simple and straightforward. They may not seem to be sensible, but after many years of experience, You have shown me that once I obey You, I can look back on each test to my faith and see how Your will makes so much more sense than anything else that came to mind. Besides seeing that reasonableness after obedience, sometimes You also give me the privilege of seeing You smile.

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