What is Faith?
Because of the strange road my life took, I have thought for years about faith. Early in my life I decided to work on the Creation/evolution area–with a special interest in the Flood, since, as a working geophysicist, I knew floods leave evidence of themselves. My life was characterized by years of doubt, struggle, and pain, as I struggled with whether or not there was any reality to the Bible’s early stories. While I took a bad turn early and went into young-earth creationism, I came out of it with one question I got from Harold Slusher at breakfast in El Paso around 1980. “If God can’t be creator, how can He be savior?” That question haunted me after I left YEC and became an evolutionist. The doubts I went through for the next 15 or so years, of course, that raises the question of whether doubt equals lack of faith. We often hear that to be the case, ‘Don’t doubt, just believe’ they say. “Faith,’ Paul says, " is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” but what does that mean? Is faith in the existence of Leprechauns, whom one might hope for and which are not seen, an example of faith? I think obviously the question is no.
Add to that the claim in James that "What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such a faith save him? James 2:14. What constitutes appropriate deeds? Lot is called righteous, but I find him one of the most repugnant people in Scripture. How can he have faith with deeds?
Let’s look at Noah, whom I believe was real and most here believe is mythical. Noah was apparently told by God to build an ark because, as I mimic God, ‘Y’all are going to need it badly’. And Noah went to work. It is likely he spent 120 years building a boat for a land without rain. One can see the neighbors making fun of him for that 120 years as he preached to that world that a flood was coming. Noah kept building with not one shred of evidence that he was right about a coming flood. Can one imagine the doubts he would have? ‘God why don’t you show everyone something more tangible here so they will quit laughing?’ , ‘God, why am I on my own on this project?’, ‘Am I correct?’… on and on. But Noah kept building. Only when the rain started tapping on the roof of the ark did Noah know his faith had been right.
There are a couple of things I see here. Noah had one thing to do–build an ark. It became his life long obsession. And God left him doubting for a long time.
Abraham and Sarah had a similar experience with their lives of faith. Abraham was 75 or so when he was told that Canaan would be given to his seed, and Abram didn’t have an offspring. Sarah was 65, way past menopause and God was telling him that he would have an heir.
At age 90, God said that Sarah would have a son and God would establish his covenant through him, and by the way, change your name to ‘father of a multitude’. And for 10 years he walked around with one son, Ishmael, claiming the name of father of many. How many people twittered behind his back about this name?
And it wasn’t only Abraham whose faith was important. Hebrews 11:11 says: Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised. This took the faith of two faithful people. In the interims, God left them to have faith and the doubts that come with faith.
Then the ultimate test. Isaac was born when Abe was 100 and Sarah 90, and God asked Abe to sacrifice Isaac on an altar. Hebrews says of this:
17 By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, 18 Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: 19 Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead ; Heb 11:17-19.
I believe that the day of the sacrifice, Abraham couldn’t have been doubting or he couldn’t have done the sacrifice. What we learn from Hebrews is that Abraham believed Isaac would be resurrected, and thus I believe that Abraham knew that there was a coming Messiah. That day, he had to be thinking that Isaac was the Messiah. There is support for this view in Genesis 22:5 when Abraham says:
And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you .
Abraham knew that if he killed Isaac, the normal circumstances would be that two people wouldn’t come again to the servants; only 1 would return. This statement in Genesis is evidence of what Abraham believed that day.
Faith is hard. It is knowing something is true when there is no evidence of it. But faith must be in the right thing; in the right God, the real God.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego illustrate the relationship between faith and doubt. Daniel 3:16-18 says:
" Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. 17 If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. 18 But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up. "
The bolded sentence showed that they didn’t know what God would do. They had faith taht God was able to save them from the fire, but they were unsure if God would actually do it.
Simeon is one of my favorite guys of faith.
25 And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him. 26 And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law, 28 Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace." Lk 2:25–29
While we don’t know how long Simeon knew that he would see the Messiah, but it was probably not the day before. He had probably been at the Temple most days awaiting the child.
One thing all these stories have in common is that God communicated a future truth to the participants. Noah was told specifically of a flood. Abraham was told specifically that Sarah would have his heir. And Abraham had to have been told that the Messiah would die and rise again. The three firewalkers were told that and certain that God could rescue them from fire. Simeon was specifically told that he would see the Messiah before he died.
The reason these communications are important is that it undermines the accommodationalist claim that God wouldn’t communicate truth about creation to the ancient Hebrews. It is obvious that God was able and did communicate specific truth to ancient Hebrews.
The whole reason I am interested in the question of faith is that at a young age I wanted to know if the Bible’s early stories were true or not, and most of my spare time was spent reading science books. I read them at my kids school plays; read them at baseball, soccer and tennis matches; read them at home in the evening and at lunch at work. I read on my in-laws couch when we visited. I like Simeon because, while I didn’t know (and God didn’t speak to me) whether a way existed to make those stories compatible with science, I keep reading and finally at the end of my life, the last pieces of the puzzle fell into place. Whether it is of God or not, I can’t say. I know this though, it matches observational data at any level of detail one could want and it made my faith greater, even if it doesn’t do anything for anyone else. I had 15 years of serious doubt about Christianity, but I kept reading. I suspect Noah and Simeon both had doubts at time whether what they believed would ever come true, but Noah kept building that arck and Simeon kept going to the Temple…
If someone wants to see a good sermon on doubt go here