The popular meaning for faith is to believe something without proof. This is the “popular” meaning, and as with the meanings of several other words, it doesn’t match up with its meaning used in the Bible. For instance, the popular definition of church is the building that worshippers meet in. The popular meaning of saint is someone who did good religious works and died. The Bible doesn’t use these meanings.
Suppose people on two sides of an issue change a meaning of a word and they both talk about a subject that involves that word. What confusion it would cause! If biblical faith were misunderstood, then we would get questions like, “What in the world does science and faith have to do with each other?” Since science is concerned with evidence and blind faith is not, they are incompatible –to a degree, anyway. (For instance, theories or hypotheses begin with a faith statement, then moves on to look for evidence to support to disprove the statement.)
So it is when I talk to people who talk about blind faith. Such a thing isn’t taught in scripture as definitively as they think. Does God command us to order our lives by blind faith? Consider the following examples.
In Exodus chapters 3-4, Moses finds a bush on fire, but it’s still unharmed. God speaks to him out of it and tells him that he will bring the Israelites out of Egypt. He was to go to the elders of the children of Israel and speak to them. Moses wondered how the elders were to believe him. Do you think that God replied with, “What do you mean, Moses? They are ignorant, superstitious people. They’ll believe anything!” No indeed. God gave him a few of miracles to perform – staff turns into a snake, his healthy hand turns leprous, and a bowl of water from the Nile turns into blood. So their faith in Moses’ message from God was buttressed with evidence of deity – with signs that normal human beings do not do.
When Jesus sent out his disciples two by two, he first held a pre-evangelism meeting with them. He told them what message to give (“The kingdom of God is drawing near”), and then what signs to perform with that message. Why should anybody believe that the kingdom of God was near? They knew from the OT prophecies about the coming worldwide kingdom of God, that it included healthy bodies, such as no more lameness, deafness, or blindness. These and other miracles were the specific signs to perform to validate the message in the ears of those who heard, saw, and experienced. The public miracles Jesus performed were kingdom-specific when accompanied by his message of the kingdom. The miraculous signs validated the message – God was not calling them to blind faith but to examine the evidence. The kingdom of God was drawing near. See? Here is evidence – the blind miraculously see and the deaf hear.
People wondered whether Jesus was the Messiah, the one God spoke of in the OT who would come and deliver them. They were not encouraging one another to blind faith, but reasoning from intellect. Some reasoned, “When the Christ comes, will he do more signs that these which this man has done?” (John 7:31). In other words, surely this man has validated his message well enough by his many miracles. Others reasoned, “We know where this man is from; but when the Christ comes, no one knows where he is from” (John 7:27). This latter person used reason, though faulty reason; for when the wise men came to Herod to ask him where is born the King of the Jews, the scribes looked up the prophecy and correctly pointed to Bethlehem. We know the Christ would come from Bethlehem.
Nicodemas, a ruler of the Jews who visited Jesus one night, was convinced that Jesus was sent by God, “for no man can do the miracles that you do unless God was with him.” No blind faith there. He used his ears to listen to the stories being circulated around him; his eyes to see people who were formerly leprous now attending the temple worship from which they were once banned; his intellect to connect up God’s prophecies and the happenings around him with the man standing before him. Does reason, experience, and intellect equal blind faith?
In Acts chapter 17, verses 10-12, we find a group of religious believers in Berea commended for checking whether the apostle Paul’s message was sound. God does not want religious audiences to “just believe” merely because that’s what dumb sheep are supposed to do. We are to use our heads and not be gullible. Reason should prevail. This is one place where the Bible plainly elevates double-checking carefully against blind faith – where the Bible agrees with the atheist that blind faith is wrong! The message is not more correct the more popular the messenger, either; the message is only accurate where it matches the meaning of the biblical text. Truly, in the case of people listening to popular televangelists, we find possibly the greatest amount of blind, unexamined faith present.
When Paul the apostle went everywhere to convince the Jews that Jesus was the Christ promised by God, he didn’t tell them to just believe, or believe because everyone else was doing it, or believe because they were religious and were supposed to accept it by blind faith. Rather, he showed them the OT scriptures and used reason to show them that the life of Jesus lined up perfectly with the prophecies in the OT:
Born in Bethlehem – check.
Descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – check.
From the tribe of Judah – check.
Ministry in Galilee – check.
Would speak in parables, or hidden sayings – check.
He would be betrayed – check.
Will be considered a criminal – check.
He would be silent before his accusers – check.
Forsaken by his disciples – check.
His hands and feet would be pierced – check.
Would be buried in the tomb of a rich man – check.
His body will not decay – check.
He will rise from the dead – check.
(The above list taken from http://www.biblestudy.org/prophecy/old-testament-prophecies-jesus-fulfilled.html Read if you want scripture references.)
But what about all those other stories and happenings throughout the Bible? Aren’t we supposed to take them all on blind faith? No – we take them on trust in the same way we trust other things and people. The word trust used in the Bible has the same meaning as trust used in the popular sense. Also, trust in the Bible is not blind trust; we trust in biblical things in the same way we trust in things and people today – carefully, and over time.
So if an elderly stranger said he was wounded in the war, we might take his word on trust; but if he shows us his Purple Heart, then he validates his word, and our belief gets firmer. The more verifiable material he supplies about his record, the more we are convinced. Then we may take on trust the more personal aspects of his story because the rest of his story had checked out (when the rest of his story has the ring of truth). Trusting in such things that we can’t verify doesn’t mean we are acting in blind faith, but in the man’s integrity; he has built up a foundation of trustworthiness about known things, so we can trust him with the unknown things of his experiences. (In this case, I am speaking of casual conversations and topics, not top-secret or life-critical information that needs rigorous checking.)
So it is with the Bible. Just as a teacher doesn’t expect her students to write bestsellers before understanding English grammar and spelling and word usage, even so the God of the Bible doesn’t expect us to believe or trust everything we read right away. It is “here a little, there a little,” just like when learning anything else in life. God created us with minds that want to understand, that need evidence, which want the world to make sense. He has provided more than enough prophecies to point us to Jesus Christ as the person God has selected to be the one. The Bible provides more than enough historical accuracy about places, people and evidence to grant us a foothold on trust.
As with any worldly relationship among friends or a more serious relationship, God expects to prove himself to us more and more, and be found worthy of complete trust.
A lot of religions seem to call for belief without any proof, but that’s not biblical Christianity. As we’ve seen in the examples earlier, God expects us to use the brains He gave us. If any Christian religious practices seem nutty or wrong, check it against the Bible to see whether the foundation was man-made. For instance, the Crusades were wrong, according to the Bible; men started those for their own selfish reasons, not from biblical guidance. Common motivations to do wrong include desire for sex, money, security, fear, love, pride, prestige, violence, and power.
Atheists and agnostics attempt to convert all religious experiences into concepts they can understand, such as turning them into intellectual or emotional responses to religious ideas. We were brainwashed, they say; we saw or felt what we wanted to; we were delusional; we believe fairy tales because they make us feel better; we keep up religious practices because they bring order and stability into a world of chaos. All these things an unspiritual person can understand. They can’t understand God working in one’s life because it is outside their experience. Sin separates us from God, and as long as they continue in sin, they continue in a life where God doesn’t work. It’s a self-perpetuating illusion.
But when God begins to work, and the coincidences between prayer and life accumulate, trust blossoms more and more. This is not blind faith, but God proving himself little by little. The spiritual believer who with intelligence and humility connects the dots, finds a big God whose integrity is unquestionable. Then more and more of the Bible is trusted; again, this is not blind faith, but a faith with experiences of God fulfilling his promises to those who believe him more and more. Remember that all our friendships began with some small trusts. It is no different than with faith in God.
The popular meanings of faith, saint, church and other words do not mean the same as they do in the Bible. It seems that those who ridicule the Bible the most are also those who understand the biblical word meanings the least. They are using the popular meanings found in general word usage dictionaries and not in Hebrew and Greek lexicons. In the end, they end up ridiculing a faith that does not even exist!
In the Bible faith means exactly the same as the word believe. When a scientist says he believes, we don’t assume he’s believing in spite of the evidence; believe, like faith, means a strong conviction that something is so. How one came to believe is not part of the meaning of either word. As we saw with a few examples above from the Bible, God is for the mind and evidence. He who created the mind tells us, “Come, let us reason together.” He who gave us a brain had men compile a 1500-page book to reveal himself.
Yes, there are believers who acknowledge that their church’s teachings are true because they belong to that church and they will be loyal. It’s okay to examine the foundations of your faith. This entire web site is my examination of the issues, of letting the light of God’s Word shine on the issues that puzzle me. God’s Word stands sure and trustworthy. There is every reason to believe. The atheist and the Bible agree — use your head!