March 29, 2005

Faith, and religious 'discussion'

I really am not a great fan of pickin religious 'fights' with people I don't know that well. My main reason is that I don't like to appear a crusader who on the slightest provocation will launch into a long, convoluted and spittle heavy explaination of why the perfectly innocent comment just made was wrong… I know of few things more irritating.
So, I feel quite award when I think I'm doing it, and kinda feel like I might have crossed that line already, and want to some more – so I move to my own blog. Which is a perfect place to rant where nobody whatsoever will hear me, but will still allow relief of pressure ;).

OK… Faith.

There's a widely held idea (refered to below as 'the idea'!) that in some way uncertainty is a necessary part of belief, because if it wasn't uncertain then belief wouldn't be necessary, and faith is the ability/capacity that enables us to deal with this act of basing our lives on something we're not really sure about.

I've got problems with that. Maybe God can be proved to exist, maybe he can't – I'm not gonna argue that here. I'm tempted to say 'the idea' is wrong, but I'm gonna settle for it not being the whole story.

Example. Jesus walks on the water. The disciples, looking out of the boat, can see him standing there on something that really doesn't look too solid. One of them, Peter, says "If it's really you tell me to come to you" and Jesus does. So Peter gets out of the boat, and starts walking. Half way he looks round at the large waves etc, gets a bit worried, and starts to sink, only to be caught by Jesus, and is told "Oh you of little faith – why did you doubt?"

Consider how little sense it makes at this point for Peter to doubt the existence of God. He's a Jew, brought up in a nation of people who believed in God, where the argument 'Who made the world then!?' wasn't so silly. He's also wandered round with Jesus for a bit, watching some fairly non-standard things happen, and if that wasn't enough, he's currently walking on water. Doubting whether or not God is there doesn't make so much sense.

Another question – did the apostles have any faith? Yes… they must have right? But if faith is the ability to believe without proof, how does it apply to the people who Did have Christianity proved to them – 100%-without-a-doubt-resurected-corpse. If they did see that, how does faith apply to them?

My solution to this – faith in God is the ability to trust him to come through when you need him to – like when you're standing on the surface of a lake, or when you're on a roof trying to convince a crowd of several thousand people, who think you're drunk, that someone rose from the dead.
The main reason I'm writing this whole thing is that having that trust is key to being Christian, and I've got a nasty feeling 'the idea' above might get in the way of it. That'd be bad.

There's a verse that appears to suggest the opposite of what I've argued – Hebrews 11 verse 1. It says this:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

This really confused me for a bit. But… in context, ie the bible, 'things hoped for' means the promises of God, very often heaven. And the bible doesn't regard these as uncertain (for obvious reasons!). When the bible talks about Hope, that's short hand for 'really looking forward to' (at least that's my very brief definition!). No uncertainty is implied by this half of the verse. The other half – maybe. I'm not sure, which is why I haven't said the starting definiton of faith is wrong, rather than just incomplete. It should be said that this verse, and one a few verses below it, are the only verses in the bible that imply this way of looking at faith, and doctrines based on 2 verses are.. er.. you can guess.

I'm aware that the above is dangerously close to a sermon. I should add that it's not just me that thinks like this – it's a fairly established idea, as far as I know. Given that, my vague attempt to avoid being preachy probably failed. Ah well. Sorry bout that.


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  1. To throw another idea into a pot, doesn't it take faith to believe in anything at all? Take science, for example, which is the study of the predictable. I have seen people turn to science as a way to explain what is going on. All science does is to tell you what will probably happen, based on previous experience. It takes faith to be sure that the same will happen in the future. Subtle, I know, but many of us take for granted where the light switch is when we walk into a dark room. Who told us it'll be in the same place as it was last time!?

    I think what you may be talking about is that there is a level of faith. When in Nigeria last year, I heard of Christians and Muslims willing to die simply because of their faith. I also heard of others who were not willing to do that, and renounced their faith.

    I hope you're not describing faith as a crutch to stand on when things go bad, but maybe that those are the times when our depth of faith is measured.

    I think those are three only slightly connected paragraphs, but I hope they are food for thought!

    30 Mar 2005, 00:24

  2. Jill (via her workshop)

    OOh. I like. :)

    Hmm.

    Well, you have to have some kind of faith to believe that you are here, that you are not the daydream of a really smart beetle in a parallel universe. Etc.

    Hmm again.

    30 Mar 2005, 19:40

  3. Steven Carr

    'But if faith is the ability to believe without proof, how does it apply to the people who Did have Christianity proved to them – 100%-without-a-doubt-resurected-corpse. If they did see that, how does faith apply to them?'

    100% without a doubt?

    Matthew 28:16–17 'Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.'

    There is no 'some' in the Greek. It says 'they' doubted. This just must be spin to cover up the fact that people were aware that there weren't 11 apostles preaching Christianity. Paul certainly never mentions them as preachers – his evangelists are entirely different people.

    And the Corinthians certainly doubted that the resurrection from the dead was possible, although they believed that Jesus had been resurrected from the dead. Paul calls them fools for not realising that the body which is sown in the ground dies.

    Clearly Jesus was not a resurrected corpse. How can I put it best?

    I can't, so I'll let Paul do it – 'the last Adam became life-giving spirit.' Paul thinks we will become life-giving spirit when we die.

    10 Dec 2005, 10:15

  4. Ok…
    Agreed – there is no some in the Greek. That could mean two things, first – from a very quick search, there doesn't seem to be an exact equivalent for 'some' in greek, so it could be an accurate translation, or it could be a common mistraslation and all the disciples doubted. Which, as far as I can see, doesn't represent a problem…

    I'll explain – you're saying Jesus became a 'life-giving spirit', which as far as I can see is fine. Unfortunately the term 'life-giving spirit' lacks descriptive detail. (Incidentally, I'm unconvinced that the 'became' in 1 Cor 15:45 refers to the resurection – from the context, doesn't look like it does..).

    Returning to the gospels, we see Jesus eating broiled fish, inviting people to poke hands into the wounds made by the nails and spear, and in one case having a lenghty conversation with a couple of his followers (not inner 11 guys) who seemed to cope fine with the fact he seemed to be a normal human, but didn't recognise him for some time.. Immediately after they did work out who he was, he vanished. This also seems quite common – Jesus appears and disappears seemingly at will. So we are indeed not justified in saying they were dealing with a standard human, brought back from the dead.

    However, I don't think the uncertainty as to how the bible says Jesus was resurected can justify saying that the disciples doubted his resurection – that seems to be about the only thing they could have been clear on. "What happens next, where are you going, what just happened?" Doubt can exist in a variety of ways – not all of which have to be logically consistent.

    Two further points – if Matthew 28:17 is a "cover up for the fact that there weren't 11 apostles preaching Christianity" isn't the start of Acts a slight problem? Given that Judas had already fallen away, would such a cover up actually be needed?

    Secondly, I don't think you can take one verse from the Pauline letters and state it as a definitive position without putting the terms and concepts involved in context…

    Thanks for all the comments, gave me something to do this morning!

    10 Dec 2005, 14:19

  5. Steven Carr

    It was you who claimed that the disciples could not possibly have doubted, so the fact that the author of Matthew claims that they did doubt, must be spin. What was there in Matthew 28:17 to doubt? Any form of doubt must have been dispelled surely. Matthew is claiming they were doubters, which can only be to cover up their rapid departure from their beliefs.

    The start of Acts is not a problem for me, as even in Acts the disciples disappear with amazing speed and incredible vagueness. There is nothing wrong with the author of Acts putting a shiny gloss on the activity of early Christians , but the fact that even he could not find positive things to say about most of the disciples is very telling. John in Acts, for example, seems to be no more than a cipher. His name seems to be little more than 'and John'.

    Thirdly, I agree that you cannot take one verse from Paul, but it is intriguing that he calls the resurrected Jesus 'pneuma' , when the Jesus in Luke denies being a 'pneuma' (spirit)

    You have to read all of Paul, and try your best to work out the context of what he was addressing. Not easy when you only hear one half of the conversation.

    The Corinthians believed in the resurrection of Jesus, but doubted the resurrection of the dead, and wondered how dead bodies could rise. This must mean that there was something about the way the resurrection of Jesus was reported which made it not obvious how a dead body could rise.

    Paul says 'How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.' and then he goes on to talk about two bodies, a natural body and a spiritual body, culminating in the claim that Adam was a living soul, and Jesus a spirit.

    Why stress that a dead body has died, and that there are two bodies, unless you want to tell the Corinthians that they are foolish for wondering how a dead body can rise? They are fools for not realising that a dead body is dead, and that you will be given a new body by God – a heavenly body, not made from earthly materials, just as stars and other heavenly bodies were believed in those days to be made of materials not found on Earth.

    2 Corinthians 5 is clear that Paul expected to exchange his earthly dwelling for a heavenly dwelling

    1Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, 3because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.

    All this is very different from the Gospels, which have Jesus in the same body he died in, but now the laws of the universe do not apply to that flesh-and-bones body.

    10 Dec 2005, 17:22

  6. Matt

    Just a quick comment – don't have time to reply properly right now, but I will. Sorry about the delay! If you have time though, there is one clarification I'd like you to make – what exactly do you mean by "spin"? It seems like you're saying the writer of Matthew was trying to blur over, cover up, or other wise smudge the issue of some of the inner 11 'abandoning the cause' by stating that they doubted, which sets the scene for their fading out. I'm mildly confused by this.. as I don't actually how the spin element comes into it!

    12 Dec 2005, 10:45

  7. Steven Carr

    It seems like spin to me to explain to later Christians why the discipiles were not famous evangellists (with the possible exception of Peter and John).

    Paul , for example, doesn't remark upon disciples of Jesus doing any evangelising. Even Peter is not linked by Paul to Jesus.

    The verse in Matthew sounds like modern day spin, as used by politicians and football managers everywhere. The Synoptic Gospels denigrate the disciples, and saying that they were doubters would be a good way to cover up how they spent 3 years with Jesus and then disappeared from Christianity. It is hard to come up with any other reasonable explanation.

    After all, if you had given up everything to follow Jesus, seen him resurrected, would you be more of a doubter than modern-day Christians who are often steadfast , even without the benefit of seeing Jesus in the flesh and having seen miracles first hand?

    The disciples were supposed to be transformed by the resurrection, yet the Bible claims that they weren't.

    It doesn't correspond to human nature. Christians today are living proof that the Gospels portrayal of the disciples hits many false notes.

    Gosh, I'm a sceptic, but if I saw Moses and Elijah return to Earth, I would cease to be one of these 'doubters' of Matthew 28:17.

    Can you imagine how loud the testimony would be if Christians today saw Moses and Elijah return to Earth?

    The Gospels say that the disciples were given the power to work miracles, and were sent to teach and preach.

    In whiich case, the Bibles potrayal of disciples with no faith, miracles workers who doubted that Jesus could work miracles. teachers who could not understand teaching themselves, this is a strange thing.

    12 Dec 2005, 19:30

  8. Matt

    Sorry, I'm still confused. I understand spin to be telling a lie or certain selected parts of the truth about a situation to conceal another more embarassing aspect. In this situation, you're claiming that the majority of the early disciples doubted and stopped being Christians soon after Jesus death – in what way does stating they were doubters serve to conceal this? Please redefine spin as you understand it, or explain what I've missed!

    13 Dec 2005, 16:04

  9. Steven Carr

    Today, quite often, when somebody stops being a Christian, some other Christians explain that that person was never a Christian in the first place. Not many Christians would do that, but there are some who explain apostasy like that.

    To explain some of the disciples apostasy, it is easier to say that there was something wrong with them, than deal with the real reasons why somebody would reject something.

    Of course, this is just speculation on my part, but why else would the author of Matthew say that they doubted? What was there to doubt if they had been given, as you say. cast-iron proof of the Resurrection?

    13 Dec 2005, 18:47


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