“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1Pet. 3:15).
Faith and Reason – many people see these two entities as the source of the great conflict in our system of beliefs. Many times in our Christian walk, we are not sure whether we should possess faith and discard reason; or for that matter embrace reason and abandon faith. If we appeal solely to reason without faith, we would become liberal Christians, rationalizing every miracle in the Bible to natural dispositions and reducing the unexplained to purely myths produced from the imaginative minds of the disciples of Christ. On the other hand, if we appeal solely to faith without reasoning, we will easily become heretics, proclaiming and practicing the truth in an illogical manner no different from the mystical cults. How do we reconcile faith and reason in our system of beliefs?
What is reason? Reason is the intellectual faculty of our mind in drawing conclusions based on facts of the evidences. It must be noted that the power of reasoning is not something we should despise, in spite of the conflict that it may cause to our approach to faith. In fact, the power of reasoning is from God. The ability to think logically and systematically is a blessing from the Most High. Hence, we have systematic theology – a course which brings about the understanding of God in a systematic and logical manner.
Faith, on the other hand, is not rational thought; neither is it irrational. The Christian faith is not about taking a leap in the dark. A person, who closes his eyes and crosses a busy street proclaiming that he has faith in God to protect him, is not a man of faith – as such a belief is totally an alien to the biblical faith. The Christian faith is not a blind leap in the dark. At the same time, it is also not the belief in the absence of evidence. Rather, Christian faith is a belief which rests completely upon biblical evidence.
Faith must not be seen as being superior to reason. Ponder for a moment – without the faculty of reasoning, would you have been able to understand the Gospel when it was presented to you? The Lord says, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isa. 1:18). The Gospel presents us as sinners who are unable to cleanse ourselves of our sins. It is only the blood of Jesus Christ which is able to cleanse us. If we are to put our complete trust in Christ, though our sins are as scarlet, yet they shall be white as snow. Isn’t the Gospel reasonable? That is why the Bible exhorts us to “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you” (1Pet. 3:15). Because the faith that we have come to embrace is a reasonable faith!
But in like manner, neither can reason be made superior to faith. Without faith, how can you believe in a Saviour whom you have not experience with your senses – see, feel and touch? No matter how logical the presentation of the Gospel is, if the Holy Spirit does not work in the heart of the hearers, they will not come to the faith.
The Bible says, “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is…” (Heb 11:6). On the one hand, the Gospel must be reasonable that it can be comprehended by others; on the other, without the working of faith, one will never be drawn any closer to the heaven even when he is presented with the most reasonable Gospel. Thus, faith is subject to reason; and reason to faith, such that with both working together, one can progress in his understanding of God and His will for one’s life.
Take the classic case of Abraham. In Genesis 22, Abraham was called to offer Isaac as a sacrifice unto God. This put Abraham in a great conflict. Why? Because prior to that, God had revealed clearly to Abraham that the covenant which God gave him would be through Isaac (Gen 17:19). Now, Abraham reasoned, if Isaac were to be sacrificed, wouldn’t that nullified God’s promise unto him? Here, Abraham had to wrestle between faith and reason – to sacrifice Isaac against God’s covenant or to spare Isaac against God’s command. How could he reconcile between two seemingly contradicting entities? If you were Abraham, what would you do? Eventually, Abraham went to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. He believed God had given him a clear command. At the same time, Abraham reasoned that God would not contradict Himself. In fact, Abraham, in his finite wisdom, believed that Isaac would be killed in accordance to God’s command but God would raise Isaac up alive again in accordance to the promise of God’s covenant: “By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called” (Heb. 11:17-18). Bear in mind, that before that, there was no such incident of the miracle of one being raised from the dead ever recorded in the Bible! Such was Abraham’s faith and reasoning. With perfect hindsight, we know that this was not what happened. Instead, God intervened as Abraham was about to offer Isaac and provided a ram for the sacrifice.
We may not be Abraham, but many times in our spiritual lives, like Abraham, there is always a constant struggle between our faith and our reason. We have to constantly seek wisdom from the Lord to guide us in our decision-making: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (Jas. 1:5). If we are certain of God’s will for our lives which is biblical, do not try to find reasons beyond the Scripture for your reluctance in walking in the will of God for you. If we are fearful, then confess our lack of faith to God, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:24). But if your faith is not rested upon the word of God, be reasonable as not to build up a castle on sand. Instead, acknowledge your lack of understanding and continue to search the Scripture and seek the Lord’s guidance. Blind “faith” will only lead to destruction.
Faith and reason are not two irreconcilable entities in our Christian faith. Instead, they are twins which are essential for us to understand God and His will for our lives. Faith and reason are not the left and the right hands – where most people are stronger in one hand than the other, and thus hardly use the weaker one. Instead, faith and reason are likened to a pair of legs; both needed equally to walk properly. Every step taken by the leg of faith is always balanced by the leg of reason. Let us learn to embrace faith and reason together as we walk with God. Let us not just hop on one leg only as we walk in the will of God. What God has given us is a reasonable faith.