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Anatomy of Belief (6): Rational Conviction

A Guide to Examining the Way We Believe So That What We Believe Will be Secure

I have done some irrational things in my life. There are way too many things to count. However, two stand out.

One time when I was 12-years-old I was riding my Yamaha YZ-80 dirt bike motorcycle in an undeveloped part of our neighborhood. It was getting dark and the rain was starting to fall. There was an 18-foot hill I had been climbing for the last few hours. It had a lip at the top which was great for jumping. When I saw the rain start to fall, having realized that it was time to go home, I wanted to get in one last bit of fun. So, I backed away from the hill about forty yards and prepared for the final jump of the day. Normally I would hit the hill with about one-third throttle in second gear. When I got to the top, where the lip was, I would do as any good motocross rider would do and give it a slight bit more gas to steady my bike through the jump. However, this time I let go of all good senses. To this day I don’t know why but I gunned in from the beginning and hit third gear full-throttle. By the time I hit the lip, I was flying and had no throttle left to steady the jump. Sure enough, the bike went flying through the air as my body parted from the seat and hands from the grips. Flying alone about fifteen to twenty feet in the air was the last thing I remember. About twenty minutes later I woke up on the ground, flat on my face with my bike twenty feet away from me. I stood up and came to, walked to my bike, and tried to pick it up. It was only then that I discovered the excruciating pain radiating from my shoulder. My clavicle had been broken. I stood there and cried until a nice lady stopped and came to my aid.

The other time is when I was four-years-old. Most people remember very little about things that happened when they are this young, but this act of stupidity made a lasting impression on my mind. We had a dog named Scamper. He was a little Schnauzer who could not have weighed more than eight pounds. I was on the second floor looking over the second-story balcony of our house when I had a bright idea. I thought I would check and see if Scamper could fly. So, I picked him up and dropped him on the wood floor twelve feet below. As I stood there looking over the rail at Scamper’s motionless body, I knew that I had done something wrong. Thankfully, Scamper lived.

In both cases I remember my dad asking me what I used for a brain. In both cases, I failed to use common sense. Neither I nor Scamper could fly.

Rational thinking can be defined as the innate human capacity for rational, reasonable, and analytical thought. My dad would just call it “common sense.” It is “common” because it comes standard with every human brain, no upgrades necessary.

However, many of us choose not to use rational thinking. We often take “leaps of faith,” believing that the irrational will somehow be true. It is said that the lottery is a taxation upon stupid people. This is probably the case. I know people who spend their money every day on a lottery ticket that has less than a one in a million chance of winning. However, like myself with Scamper, they trust in the most unlikely of outcomes, believing that their blind and irrational faith will defy the rules of logic just for them.

It is very hard to justify conviction without rational.

Rational Conviction

Remember, faith is made up of three essential components: content, conviction, and consent. We are focusing in on conviction which has three components as well: rational conviction, real life (evidential) conviction, and referred conviction.

Our desire is to have all of these meters up as high as we can in order for the intellectual conviction of our faith to be secure.

Rational thinking is what the Reformers called certidudo. It is something that we are born with. Of course, as is assumed here, it is not something that we must use. We can be irrational. We can do things as well as believe things that don’t make rational sense.

The Christian faith is a rational faith. What I mean by this is that it is something that requires us to use our minds. We believe this because we believe that rationality is an attribute of God. Being created in the image of God includes the ability and responsibility to have a rational faith. However, I have come across many people who believe that rational thinking is the enemy of true spirituality. These believe that using our minds and logical thinking is like kryptonite for a true believer. This is where we get the phrase “blind faith.”

“Blind faith” is irrational faith. This way of thinking has an interesting past. I think that one of the most influential figures in history who helped give rise to the idea that faith must be blind was a seventeenth-century philosopher named Immanuel Kant.  Kant was an epistomologist. Epistemology is the study of the theory of knowledge. It describes how we know things. Rene Descartes was an overly optimistic philosopher, believing we could be absolutely certain about anything if we followed the right method of inquiry. David Hume was an overly pessimistic philosopher who believed that we could not be certain of anything given our finitude of understanding. Kant, hoping to rescue knowledge from both errors relegated all knowledge into two categories: 1.) The real world, which can be known and understood through observation (what he called the phenomenal), and 2.) that which cannot be known because it is unknowable (what he called the noumenal). Religion and all matters concerning the knowledge of God and metaphysics were placed in the noumenal category. Kant was basically saying, you can believe in God, but you cannot believe in Him like you believe in your friends, car, or your popcorn machine. However, when you believe in God, you must understand that your belief is not based in knowledge and intellectual conviction, but in blind faith. Faith, for Kant, was not necessarily irrational, but “trans-rational” (i.e. above and beyond the rational). However, in the real world it is virtually impossible to tell the difference between irrational and the “trans-rational.”

From this came the now popular dichotomy between faith and reason. Hence rose anti-rationalism in the church; hence came the unbiblical banishing of assensus from the Christian faith. Unfortunately, the church has bought into this Kantian philosophy and has been plagued with it for the last 200 years.

We have a song to commemorate this. You know the one? It goes like this, “You ask me how I know he lives, he lives within my heart.” In other words, I don’t have any true rational for my belief, therefore, I appeal to emotional conviction and say it is from the Holy Spirit. Indeed, it could be from the Holy Spirit, but it could just as well be self-produced or from a demon. How do you know the difference?  Many in the evangelical church today have the right information (notitia) but they blindly trust in that information without considering it in a rational manner. This is not the way God created us to believe. If you have banished rational thinking from your faith, your true conviction is going to suffer tremendously.

Rational thinking comes by way of correspondence of our beliefs to reality and the way things work. Having faith that a dog can fly is a blind and irrational faith. Having faith in the lottery is a blind and irrational faith. Having faith that I can gun my throttle in third gear up a twenty-foot hill is, well, just plain stupid.

“But, God is above logic. He transcends logic. Therefore, to believe in him is to transcend logic.”

Or, more technically:

“Our understanding says A. But God transcends our understanding. Therefore in God’s world A can equal non-A. Therefore, believing in non-A is godly faith exercised.”

A certain theologian once said that Christian wisdom is the act of embracing both sides of a contradiction. While this sounds nice and profound (and sadly gains quite an audience), think of the implications. It is really no different than what the snake said to Eve in the Garden. Here is another to put it:

“Has God really said you shall not eat of any tree in the Garden or else you will die? [has God said A] Surly you will not die [non-A is the truth].”

If we truly believe that wisdom and faith are exemplified by the embracing of irrationality, then Satan was faithful and wise in his admonition here. As well, if this is correct, Christians cannot believe a word that comes out of God’s mouth. Rationality would say that whatever God says corresponds to reality (A=A). But irrational blind faith says that truth can be irrational. Therefore, what God says (i.e. “truth”) may not correspond to reality (A may not equal A). If this is the case, while God says that he loves you, wisdom says that love can equal non-love. While Christ says that he will never leave you or forsake you, faith says that not forsaking can equal forsaking. If rationality is not a rule that God has to go by because he is God, then our faith is in vain. There is no hope.

Our faith is rational precisely because God is rational. We are to believe rationally precisely because God has created us in his image as rational beings. While it is true that truth is often beyond our ability to rationally comprehend, it is not true that this makes it irrational in any sense.

Irrational Conviction

The Belief-O-Meter below illustrates the faith of one who’s beliefs are completely irrational. I am going to use a biblical illustration for this one. In Isaiah 40-48, God condemns the Israelites for their faith in other gods. It might be better to say he belittles them for their irrationality. They had turned from their trust in God and began to place their trust in other gods for their needs.

Again, this represents the irrational faith of the Israelites. Notice the sub-meters. The “real life” experience meter is active due to their experience with other gods. They may have prayed to the goddess of fertility and nine months later had a child. They may have prayed to the rain god and within an hour it rained. The “referred” meter is high because so many of those who the Israelites knew worshiped other gods as well. It was a community thing. However, notice the big faith meter which represents the amount of true biblical faith they had. It is at zero. Why? Because the rational meter is at zero, meaning that their faith was completely irrational. No matter what your personal experience, no matter what your friends and family believe, no matter what the philosophers of the day are saying, if it is irrational, it is not of God.

I love how God talks to the Israelites. Not only does it tell me that God has a great sense of humor, but it also shows that God calls on us to use our minds and not take leaps of faith.

Isa. 40:18-21
To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him? 19 An idol! A craftsman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and casts for it silver chains. 20 He who is too impoverished for an offering chooses wood that will not rot; he seeks out a skillful craftsman to set up an idol that will not move. 21 Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?

God is challenging the Israelites to think about what they are doing. He wants them to compare their gods to him. He introduces the characters who are involved in idolatry. It is significant that the various creators of the idol are spoken of. We have a craftsman who creates the idol and a goldsmith who decorates it. It is important to realize that the idol is dependent on the craftsmen and the goldsmith to create it. It is through their power and their creativity that the idol has existence! And it is in their creation that they will put their trust? Notice the repetition: “Do you not know. Do you not hear? . . . Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?” Know, hear, and understand. This is what God is calling on them to do. Think! Use your minds.

“From the foundations of the earth” draws attention to the fact that rational thinking is not something that has to be revealed in time from God. It has been around and innate within every man since the beginning. It is common sense. 

He goes on:

Isaiah 41:7
The craftsman encourages the goldsmith, and he who smooths with the hammer spurs on him who strikes the anvil. He says of the welding, “It is good.” He nails down the idol so it will not topple.

Notice the mockery here. The man who is creating this god has to nail it down on the platform so that when they are carrying it it does not fall! It is dependent on man for its ability to stand against the perils of gravity, yet man is going to depend on it for everything else?

God continues:

Isa 41:22-23
“Bring in your idols to tell us what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come, 23 tell us what the future holds, so we may know that you are gods. Do something, whether good or bad, so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear.

Here God compares his knowledge with the impotent mind of the idols. God has declared the future, which gives rational for belief in his deity. Only a God who transcends time can tell the future; God tells the future; therefore, God is the only God. “What is your rational for worshiping these other gods?,” God asks the Israelites.

And there is more:

Isa 44:12-19
The blacksmith takes a tool and works with it in the coals; he shapes an idol with hammers, he forges it with the might of his arm. He gets hungry and loses his strength; he drinks no water and grows faint. 13 The carpenter measures with a line and makes an outline with a marker; he roughs it out with chisels and marks it with compasses. He shapes it in the form of man, of man in all his glory, that it may dwell in a shrine. 14 He cut down cedars, or perhaps it was a cypress or oak. He let it grow among the trees of the forest, or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow. 15 It is man’s fuel for burning; some of it he takes and warms himself, he kindles a fire and bakes bread. But he also fashions a god and worships it; he makes an idol and bows down to it. 16 Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares his meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill. He also warms himself and says, “Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.” 17 From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, “Save me; you are my god.“

They know nothing, they understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see, and their minds closed so they cannot understand.

19 No one stops to think, no one has the knowledge or understanding to say, “Half of it I used for fuel; I even baked bread over its coals, I roasted meat and I ate. Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left? Shall I bow down to a block of wood?”

You see the belittling of this kind of faith? It is completely irrational. God makes the trees to grow. The craftsmen choose a tree and cut it down. The “strong” man creating the idol gets tired while creating it. I love it! Can you imagine someone creating a god and has to stop due to fatigue. “Hey, get me that towel so I can wipe off my forehead. It is hot in here. Also, can you bring me a jug of water. This god-making is exhausting.” Once he is done, he takes the idol’s brother and sister (the other blocks of wood) and starts a fire with it. He uses one piece of wood as his own servant to keep him warm. But with the other he bows down to it asking it to save him! Irrationality at its best.

Notice: irrational thinking, in God’s estimation is not wisdom and it is certainly not pleasing to him. God hates blind faith. He says, “No one stops to think.” No one pulls over and says, “Hey, wait a minute. Does this really make sense?”

Their is no virtue in blind faith. There is no virtue in irrationality. A truly biblical faith will not be irrational. God calls on us to use our minds and think. The creature cannot make the creator. That is a contradiction. God does not work through contradictions and does not contradict himself.

We, as Christians, are called upon to love God with all our hearts, souls, and minds (Matt. 22:37). We are to love him with the way we believe. An irrational faith is a blind faith. Of course, not all of our faith will be intuitive, but it certainly will not be irrational or logically absurd.

Questions:

What is the most irrational thing you have done in your life? What made it irrational?

If we were to concede that God can contradict himself, what promises would be in jeopardy?

How is believing in an eternal transcendent God rational?

How is atheism (disbelief in God) irrational?

5 Responses to “Anatomy of Belief (6): Rational Conviction”

  1. Excellent post. All very true.

    I was teaching the youth recently that God cannot do the illogical, and that this is not a limitation on God.

  2. The problem with blind faith in one thing can very easily be replaced with blind faith in something else. If you have no reasons for what you believe it is easy to change from one thing to another as your experience or feelings change as they have a tendency to do.

  3. OK, I’m glad you survived that first anecdote, but you left out something important – how was the bike after the jump? Those YZ-80s were great little bikes! :)

  4. Richard Worden Wilson December 6, 2010 at 2:17 am

    OK, again, where is the relational aspect of all this theologizing?
    When and where does God’s Spirit interface with our being in your scheme of spiritual realities? This portrayal of the nature of belief and faith in God through Christ seems way too abstract. So, what’s up with that?
    All the best in Christ,
    Richard

  5. I think this is a bit too black and white – I mean that you make a distinction between irrational and rational where really there are three sides – concrete, spiritual and irrational.
    When you mentioned Kant’s idea that you believe in God in a different way to how you believe in your friend or popcorn etc, you dismissed this as making belief in God irrational. But that wasn’t the distinction at all!
    Of course we believe in God in a different way to how we believe in popcorn! We know about popcorn through our senses, in a completely concrete way. We know about God in a completely different way. No one has ever seen God, and so it is much harder to rationally prove God. I would say this qualifies as blind faith. But that doesn’t mean belief in God is irrational. I think blind means a different thing altogether than irrational.

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