Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Faith when logic fails

Several years ago I had a long debate with a Mormon. I was well-equipped, thanks to the likes of Jerald and Sandra Tanner.

My friend, the Mormon, wanted to talk about Biblical inerrancy. I feared it was going to become more technical than I could handle until he took a wrong turn down transference. He believed we have today's (non-Mormon) Bible by translation from Hebrew to Aramaic to Greek to Latin to English ... or something like that. When I asked him what he thought of the Dead Sea Scrolls or well-established 2nd Century papyri, I might as well have been speaking in Aramaic. They didn't teach him about those in Mormon Sunday School.

The conversation covered a lot of ground, including history and archeology. The bottom line for this young man was his "testimony" that the Mormon Church was true. His brain then turned off and our conversation was over. At the time, I felt I hadn't seen denial like that since the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

It was an abrupt lesson for me. As much as I talk about faith, I often treat it as a logical exercise. I still find Mormonism a horrible corruption of the Gospel and this man's refusal to listen to the preponderance of evidence against the very core of his faith as aggravating.

What I learned is a good argument will only take people so far.

I cannot say this man had abiding faith, since, by established precedent, I do not believe he has a Biblical faith in Christ. On a more fleshly observation, he was clearly coerced by family and an insulated Mormon culture to arrive at his "faith." This is not really faith at all, but a lesser trust that all his friends and family can't be so wrong. And if they are, well, at least they're wrong together.

To be totally honest with myself, however, I must confess I am not so far removed from such a scenario. My father was a preacher. I come from a long line of preachers. Both side of my family see through the same Christian lense. On the other hand, I had to totally reject my family's worldview for years before arriving on a faith that settled my conscience. I was not shunned from my family or pressured into believing. They feared pressuring me would lead to a less-than-sincere confession of faith.

But I did arrive at similar conclusions, even though how I practice it is remarkably different from their methodologies. I think this is why I am so impressed with those who arrive at a Biblical faith in Christ in a family of non-believers. Such strength and conviction is impressive.

The difference between my faith and my Mormon friend's is one of plausibility. I have history and archeology on my side. As we debated, I think he discovered he really only has his testimony and familial reinforcement.

Even without plausibility, however, in a totally theoretically realm, I discovered I could also reduce my faith to a similar plane.

I once had a similar debate with a young gay co-worker who had made a cursory read of the theoretical "Gospel Quelle" or "Gospel Q" or whatever they were calling it in those days. The theory of Gospel Q -- of which there is no proof and only exists in the wildest guesses of a handful of secular academics who are admittedly predisposed against Jesus ever declaring His own deity -- suggests at least two of the New Testament gospels were written by one non-apostolic author based on Christian oral history; authorship, the theory states, was later redistributed hundreds of years later to apostles. My co-worker was questioning every single core tenant of my faith with undeserved confidence. He was understandably hostile to the traditional Gospel message.

I defended with some technical knowledge, but he quickly reduced me to a single challenge: What if archaeologists dug up some bones this morning and proved it was the dead body of Christ?

I protested that no one would ask a physicist what he would do if matter suddenly disobeyed physical laws, if one day we woke up and discovered we could walk through walls, but he insisted. So I relented.

"I would still have my faith."

It was a horribly unfair theoretical question that I probably should not have answered (I can't say I did the Gospel justice), but, once again, it returned me to an essential question of which the answer has readied a simple motto for my current faith status:

I trust in what I read in God's word, but I first rely on a faith in what I cannot know and cannot see.

We are fortunate to have skilled people to provide us with tangible evidence of the intangible, but it is the intangible thing -- the very presence of the eternal God, all three persons, and His desire to interact with us -- that constructs our faith.

Proverbs 1:7 says fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but I think it best summed in Proverbs 3:5-6:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

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