Is Faith a Way of Seeing?
Reflections on Faith and Reason
Jack Rogers' lead essay in Biblical Authority (Word, 1977) shows how in the present debate on that topic two different things are at issue. One is the nature of biblical truth; the other is the ground of faith in that truth. Rogers' article gives a good historical orientation for "The Church Doctrine of Biblical Authority" and provides helpful insight into the emergence of the inerrancy debate, but tries to do more. In this essay, a view of faith and reason rides piggyback on a view of biblical inerrancy and thus gives the impression that to accept the one is to accept the other. The reader is led to believe that a proper view of biblical inerrancy is only possible for those who adopt the epistemological stance that "the saving authority of Christ's person known in Scripture authenticates the Bible's authority prior to all human evidences and reasonings (p. 45, my italics). An epistemology, on the other hand, which demands "reasons prior to faith … seems wedded to a prior commitment to Aristotelian philosophy" (p. 45). This is obviously meant as a criticism. Yet Rogers' own "Augustinian tradition" is just as clearly rooted in Platonic philosophy (pp. 18, 21). Why the one epistemology should be preferred to the other Rogers does not say. Rather, the Platonic view simply rides piggyback on a reasonable view of inerrancy: innocence by association, as it were.
In view of this renewed attack on the priority of reason and the attempt to discredit it by wedding it to a Lindsellian view of inerrancy, the time is right for offering a fresh statement of the case for reason and evidence as the basis for faith. I will focus not on faith in the Bible but rather on saving faith in Christ.
What Is a Reasonable Act?
We speak of an act or emotion as reasonable if it is based on the true perception of a good and sufficient reason or ground. For example, a reasonable fear is one that is based on a true perception of a sufficient ground of fear. But an irrational fear is based on a false perception of an insufficient ground of fear. Similarly, all other acts or emotions can, from case to case, be called unreasonable or reasonable in the same way.
In Defense of Being Reasonable: Ordinary Experience
Most people believe human life should be purposeful, not random or haphazard. Actions should be based on a deliberation of options and on a conscious choice of the option best suited to achieve what we value. Or at least an action should spring from an intuitive sense of the rightness of the action. In other words, most people agree that there should be conscious reasons why we act the way we do. People who do not know why they act a certain way are generally considered sick or irresponsible or dangerously unpredictable. Such people may be fairly termed unreasonable or irrational. Generally this quality is considered bad.
Similarly with affections. People who are at the mercy of affections or emotions for which there is not any just cause are considered unstable and sometimes are seriously ill. We say, "Don't be unreasonable" to a man whose feeling of resentment is disproportionate to the offense done to him. To weep over the death of an insect or to laugh at an auto accident is considered strange or evil in part because the response of the emotions is inconsistent with the nature of the cause.
In short, what I am saying is that in everyday life most men are functioning (if not wholly consistent) rationalists. That is, they believe in the reasoning capacity of man to critically weigh alternatives and they want others, and usually themselves, to act and feel reasonably. When we ask someone the question, "Why do you do that?" or "Why do you think that?" or "Why do you feel that way?" we are universally dissatisfied with the answer, "I just do, that's all." Groundless action, conviction or feeling is not esteemed by ordinary men and it ought not be. This goes for religious commitments, too.
In Defense of Reasonable Faith: It Alone Honors God
If the ground of faith is insufficient, it is unreasonable and cannot truly honor its object. No greater honor can be paid to a person than to offer them your trust, to have confidence in them. But this is only so to the extent that our trust is sufficiently grounded in the person's perceived character. It may be no honor to me if a total stranger gives me $1,000 and trusts me to take it to the bank for him. He may be a fool. In order to feel that I have been honored I must ask: Why did he trust me to do this? If he says, "Because you have an honest face," I may feel a little honored that my honesty has found expression in my face. But that is a weak reason for his trust and so I am not very honored. But if he answers, "Because I have talked with ten people who know you and they all guarantee that you can be trusted completely," then I would think this is a fairly reasonable man and I would be deeply honored. Therefore faith which is not reasonable does not honor its object. Faith which is not based on a true perception of a sufficient ground for faith is unreasonable and is no more honoring to the one trusted than if the faith were the result of rolling dice.
The Ground of Reasonable Faith
According to 2 Corinthians 4:4, what believers fail to see is "the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." Thus, the ground of saving faith is "the gospel of the glory of Christ." In order for the gospel to ground faith, the unique, divine glory of Christ must be perceived in and through it. Here a complex problem emerges which demands analysis.
Is Faith a Way of Seeing or a Response to the Seen?
Is the perception of the divine glory of Christ synonymous with faith or is faith a consequence of seeing that glory? What is seeing? Jesus talks about seeing and not perceiving (Mark 4:12) and Paul talks of the "eyes of the heart" being enlightened so as to perceive (Ephesians 1:18). The seeing spoken of here by Jesus and Paul is not a seeing of glory which can then be rejected. That is, it is not a dispassionate, unfeeling seeing which can say: "I see it, but I don't like it." No, that kind of seeing is what Jesus calls "seeing yet not perceiving." There is a kind of seeing the gospel and Christ which does not draw a person to him at all. This is, however, a kind of blindness. It is a blindness in the sense that there is no appreciation or love along with the seeing because Christ is not seen as gloriously attractive. His character and his work are not perceived for what they truly are. Therefore there is a true seeing of Christ which must always be accompanied by a love of him and an appreciation of his glory. This is a seeing defined as "seeing unto love" or "seeing unto appreciation." The reality of this seeing is measured by the response of the affections. Not to trust and love is not to have truly seen (2 Corinthians 4:4, 6).
Should we then say that this kind of seeing cannot be distinguished from the response of the heart to what is seen? And if this response be called forth, then should faith be called a way of seeing? I think we will avoid misunderstanding if it is not.
To say that faith is a way of seeing could easily lead to the view that one sees only darkness and has no perceived reason or ground for faith until one arbitrarily believes—leaps into the dark. That is, faith could thus be viewed as a decision without sufficient ground or good reason. But this would be a mistake. Faith is not a decision made in spite of lacking evidence. Rather, it is that affection of the heart irresistibly drawn out by the desirable glory of its object. Faith is confident joy in the beauty of Christ's grace emerging simultaneously with a true sense of that beauty. Faith is not a decision to reach out and embrace what we are not sure of. It is the inevitable astonishment, wonder, joy and confidence at the glory of Christ's work and promise when the veil is lifted from the heart (2 Corinthians 3:16, 4:4-6) and when the heart of stone is replaced with the heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). The seeing of glory and the delight or trust in "glorious grace" are simultaneous.
But that does not mean we should equate faith and seeing as is so often done when people speak about seeing with the "eyes of faith." The true perception of glory by "the heart's eye" (Ephesians 1:18) and the inevitable, strong affection of loving attachment to that glory should not be identified. We would avoid confusion by maintaining a distinction. The integrity and reality of faith can more easily be preserved if we speak of it as response (even if it is an instantaneous and inevitable response to an intuitively perceived glory in the gospel). To equate faith with seeing will probably lead people toward an irrational stance toward life. That is, it will sound as if we are calling for people to do something without their perceiving good reason to do it. We must never be thought to issue such a call. Our concern, rather, should be to maintain a meaning of faith which on the one hand honors its object (and must thus be a response to truly perceived beauty) and on the other hand communicates clearly to others its genuine nature as a reasonable act of the heart (reasonable as defined earlier).
Reason, Language and Faith
In all I have said so far I have spoken about the reasonableness of faith but not directly about the role that reason plays in the act of faith. I have defined a reasonable act as one made in response to a truly perceived, sufficient ground, but have also suggested that the perception of this ground can be intuitive, that is, by a flash of true insight involving no long chain of arguments or deductions. Where does reason fit in here?
Let us define the reason as follows: It is the faculty by which one consciously sustains a process of "identifying one's impressions in conceptual terms, of integrating every event and every observation into a conceptual context, of grasping relationships, differences, similarities in one's perceptual material and of abstracting them into new concepts, of drawing interferences, of making deductions, of reaching conclusions …" (Ayn Rand, "The Objectivist Ethics," p. 20). What is the role of this faculty in the act of faith?
I do not think anyone comes to faith without the prior exercise of his reason. Since it is the faculty by which we gain understanding through language, and since faith comes by hearing and understanding the preached word, one must exercise his reason to grasp even the most basic statements about Christ and the gospel. Almost every word of our language is a concept that must be integrated by the reason, along with other words/concepts and assertions, into a meaning. This transfer of meaning through language involves the reason. So the least we can say is that the minimal grasp of information about Christ and the gospel, without which faith would be impossible, necessitates the exercise of reason. Therefore I find the assertion incomprehensible which claims that the authority of Christ in the gospel can authenticate itself "prior to all human reasonings!"
Reason, Beauty and Faith
If the ground of saving faith is "the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ," and if the concept of "glory" involves Christ's moral beauty and excellency, then saving faith must flow from a sense or perception of beauty, not merely a validation of facts. What role does reason play in the aesthetic event of perceiving something as beautiful?
The answer to this depends on the kind of beauty in question. The true perception and heart-response to the beauty of nature—say, a sunset—may involve very little conceptualizing (i.e., reasoning). But the true perception of the beauty of a logical treatise will obviously demand the use of reason. It's very beauty lies in its reasonableness. Now where does the gospel of the death and resurrection of Christ for our sins fit in here? The beauty of the gospel is "the glory of Christ who is the likeness of God" or "the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4, 6). It is the beauty of "that strange mixture of unbearable sternness and heartbreaking tenderness," the beauty of a loving, mighty, yet lowly person offering himself for the glory of his father on our behalf and being raised again to indestructible life. It is thus a beauty of a person's acts and attitudes seen in a particular human context of sin and hostility. It is a story. A magnificent myth come true in an indescribably glorious hero (or anti-hero).
I would say, then, that the perception of the glory of Christ in the gospel involves the reason from start to finish. The beauty inheres in the story and in the many acts and attitudes of a person in relation to many other people's acts and attitudes. It is only reason that can construe the meaning of this person's acts and actions. If, for example, the mind does not conceptualize the "Pharisee" and the "sinner," then Jesus' various responses to them will be meaningless. Therefore the perception and love of the beauty of the gospel is a perception and love mediated by the conceptual faculty of reason.
As the reason meditates on the record of this story, construing its meaning, a divine act can take place by which the hardness of heart (Ephesians 4:18), the demonic veil (2 Corinthians 4:4) is lifted. The result is that the true meaning construed by the reason is perceived to be what it really is, namely, gloriously beautiful and divine.
In conclusion then, faith is not a way of seeing. It is an abiding, heartfelt delight and confidence in "the gospel of the glory of Christ," instantaneously consequent upon the true perception of that glory for what it is. This perception of the "eyes of the heart" is mediated along the conceptual structure provided by the reason. For it is the reason which takes up the isolated parts of the gospel story and construes their meaning.
This particular understanding of the relationship between faith and reason is not locked in to any one view of biblical inerrancy. The issue addressed here is fideism (the belief that reason is irrelevant to religion) vs. evidentialism (whether a belief is justified depends solely on a person's evidence). We would do well to carry on this discussion separately from the issue of inerrancy and thus avoid Rogers' mistake of impugning an epistemology by associating it with an unbiblical (Lindsellian) view of inerrancy.
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