Posted by: 15shekels | August 11, 2009

Dance, beggars!

Part I: what if they don’t believe me?

“One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money … Then Peter said, ‘Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.’ Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.” -Acts 3:1-3, 6-10

As a philosophy major, I have been trained to value logic and reason above all else. It doesn’t matter what you argue for, but you better have a valid and sound argument. So when I first became a Christian, I understandably appreciated the amount of historical and archeological evidence for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and for the reliability of the Bible. I celebrated that the gospel explained aspects of the world and of myself that had previously stumped me. I loved presenting this evidence to others, and fighting the pervasive view in skeptical, intellectual circles that when we choose religious faith, we willingly trade critical thinking for comfort.

And yet, where does reason and evidence run out and belief step in? Is there such thing as too much rationalizing, too much logic? Because the truth is, if God is infinitely greater than our minds and understanding, then how on earth would we expect to understand everything about him? Is it damaging to try deconstructing Him too much?

Soren Kierkegaard is one of the most vocal advocates of faith that flies in the face of reason. He argues that faith requires passion, and passion is produced by paradox. And what greater paradox can there be than the incarnation? Grasping the absurdity of this paradox, is to Kierkegaard the root of faith:

“What is now the absurd? The absurd is — that the eternal truth has come into being in time, that God has come into being, has been born, has grown up, and so forth, precisely like any other individual human being, quite indistinguishable from other individuals.” (Kierkegaard, “The Concluding Unscientific Postscript”)

Passionate faith, says Kierkegaard, comes from the opposite of reason — it comes from absurdity. There are other paradoxes that are equally hard to grasp: that an all-powerful, eternal God cares about my headache, for example. Or that the same God sent His beloved and holy Son to suffer for the sins of the world. Justice is rational and logical. God’s grace is not. It can only be explained by love, a love that we can’t grasp with our puny hearts. Therefore dry logic will always only get us to a certain point, beyond which we need faith. I often look at my fiance and think, “Why do you love me? I don’t deserve it. It doesn’t make sense.” It’s a miracle, just as God’s love is a miracle. Reason doesn’t cut it.

And yet when we try to explain this belief beyond reason, the atheists point and laugh:


“Faith, being belief that isn’t based on evidence, is the principle vice of any religion…Religious faith not only lacks evidence, its independence from evidence is its pride and joy, shouted from the rooftops. Why else would Christians wax critical of doubting Thomas?” (Richard Dawkins, “Science Versus Religion”)

Dawkins ridicules Christians who rely on faith when their beliefs are challenged: “But if you have a belief that is based solely on faith, I can’t examine your reasons. You can retreat behind the private wall of faith where I can’t reach you.”

W.K. Clifford likens faith on insufficient evidence to the negligence of a shipowner who sends emigrants to sea on a ship he knows needs repairs (Clifford, “The Ethics of Belief”). He speaks of the damaging effects of relying on belief: “Every time we let ourselves believe for unworthy reasons, we weaken our powers of self-control, of doubting, of judicially and fairly weighing evidence.”

Within Clifford’s seemingly condemning statement, however, lies a crucial loophole. Hidden in this statement is the assumption that whenever we believe in God, it is for unworthy reasons because we cannot prove his existence. However, what ultimately leads to our belief is rarely evidence or reason, but direct encounters with God’s love, and deep understanding of Christ’s sacrifice. It is ultimately the Holy Spirit who works the miracle of belief in our hearts, and the miracle of understanding. That “private wall of faith” so ridiculed by Dawkins is really that which the world cannot see, because it is internal and deeply personal. When we thus encounter the eternal, unseen, all-powerful God, it is always beyond the limits of our tiny brains.

God changes us deeply, claims us as his own, speaks into our hearts. He heals our wounds and sins like Peter heals the beggar’s crippled body. I cannot, and wouldn’t want to be able to reduce his miraculous workings in my life and soul to a rational argument. And I am learning that far more powerful in conveying the truth and depth of my faith than rational arguments, is the joy and healing that others can witness in my life. The beggar jumps for joy, and the people are “filled with wonder and amazement.” And so although there is certainly room for reason, evidence, and support of the modern doubting Thomas — for Jesus was compassionate to Thomas and showed him concrete evidence — we must remember that Jesus then told Thomas to “stop doubting and believe.” There comes a point as Christians when words and arguments run out and we face a choice: are we willing to look foolish, even hateful, to most of the world? Are we willing to be like David when he “danced before the Lord with all his might” (2 Samuel 6:14), even as his wife chastised and ridiculed him? Are we willing to be like the dancing beggar, jumping around and praising God, totally unconcerned about the crowd’s reaction?

Start the music.

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Responses

  1. Wow, I did not heard about this topic up to the present. Thankz!


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