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Blind faith, Thomas, and the role of reason

In my previous post, I argued that faith has its reasons. My claim was that the paradigm examples of so-called “blind faith” are not so blind, so long as we do not restrict our understanding of the notion of “reason” in, well, unreasonable ways. My more controversial thesis was that blind faith is an incoherent notion. One may not have altogether good reasons for placing one’s faith in something but I am not sure it is even possible to literally have no reasons at all.

Let’s look at another passage that some have taken as commending blind faith. In John 20:24-25, Thomas is told by the other disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead. They knew this on the basis of the following reason: they saw the risen Christ. Thomas claims that he will not believe that Christ had risen from the dead until he possesses the same reason as they and more still. He wanted not only to see Christ but to touch his wounds as well. Jesus graciously meets this very bold demand. It is important to note that Thomas is not explicitly reproved here for his radical criterion for belief despite its being worthy of reproof. Instead Jesus surely arrested his attention with a rhetorical question “Because you have seen Me, have you believed?” and offers a blessing for those who have believed without the evidence of the senses. He says, “blessed are they who did not see, and yet believe” (v. 29).

Is this a call to blind faith?

It seems to me that to think so would be to go beyond the scope of the blessing here in this text, since the blessing is not given for those who believe blindly with no evidence whatsoever. The blessing is only for those who do not require direct sense experience for belief. It is also important to point out that even without seeing Thomas already had good reasons for believing. Jesus, who had proven himself to be trustworthy many times over, had predicted his resurrection (Matt. 20:17-19) and, as was mentioned, Thomas’ closest friends testified to him that this had indeed happened. So I think what is commended here is that we should not require an unreasonable standard of evidence in forming our beliefs. Good evidence should be good enough. (We should note that much of what we know is on the basis of testimonial evidence, coming from parents, teachers, books, friends, various forms of media, etc. It is really only a small percentage of these things that we actually go out and confirm with our senses, and yet nevertheless we confidently and often times very rationally maintain belief on the basis of trusted sources.)

The mistake that Thomas made was that he wanted to have all of the details of the situation there before him without which he would not assent. Remember he was not just jealous of what the other disciples had in terms of evidence but demanded details far beyond the threshold of rational belief. We often fall prey to this temptation too. We so often want to see the beginning from the end before we will trust God in action. I have spoken to a lot of students who have started their college training quite sure that they are called to ministry but without a specific idea of where in ministry God will have them. This can be a really tough place to be. We often want to know not only where we are going to be but how it will turn out and what sacrifices and trouble we will have to confront. But biblical faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Heb. 11:1). It is simply a fact that there are many details to which we are not privy.

God, of course, could spell it all out for us, but He typically does not. Why doesn’t He?

To answer this question, let’s think about the nature of faith itself. Faith, in my view, is active trust, and trust always has an object. That is, when you trust, there is always some thing or person that you are trusting. When you sit in your chair or board an airplane, the object of your trust is the chair or airplane. I want to suggest that when we demand complete knowledge of our circumstances and God’s plan for us, the object of our trust actually ceases to be God. The object of our faith is really only ourselves and our abilities in these cases. When Thomas makes the demand to see and touch the risen Christ, the object of his trust seems to shift from Christ himself to his own sense faculties. By contrast, when Abraham proceeds to sacrifice Isaac in Genesis 22:1-19, Abraham maintains God as the object of his trust, even in something as terrifying as being asked to sacrifice your own child. It is for this that he is commended. So the reason why God does not reveal the beginning from the end to us in all cases is that he wants to be the object of our trust.

Faith … is active trust, and trust always has an object.

I think of the relation between faith and reason as one where reason can provide support for our faith. The fact is we can sometimes place our faith or trust in things that turn out to be poorly conceived ideas. Many people have trusted politicians, investments, their own abilities, loved ones, advertising campaigns, etc., for less than compelling reasons and have corresponding horror stories as a result. Though it is certainly not infallible, reason can be a tool for deciding which objects are trustworthy, or what we may call faith-worthy. I have talked to many people who can generate a lengthy list of events where God has proven himself time and time again. These provide more than enough reasons to place our faith in God. It would be for me, at this point, simply foolish to say there is no God, as my life can be characterized by a long series of demonstrations of the faithfulness and trustworthiness and realness of God, despite my occasional penchant for ceding my trust to my own self and other things. I’m not sure where you are at in your journey, but in case you are at a place where you have doubts about the above, my prayer is that you would investigate the faith-worthiness and greatness of God. As you do this with an honest heart, I am confident that He will provide you with great reasons for placing your faith in Him.

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Travis Dickinson

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