One of the chief complaints atheists have against Christianity is that your belief is subjective, irrational, unscientific. In particular, the idea of “faith” often comes in for attack. For example, in Boghossian’s A Manual for Creating Atheists, we read, “’Faith’ is the word one uses when one does not have enough evidence to justify holding a belief, but when one just goes ahead and believes anyway” (p. 23). He defines faith as either “belief without evidence,” or “pretending to believe things you do not know.”
In contrast, the atheist thinks he believes what he believes on the basis of evidence, and, that his life partakes of the virtue of not making claims for which he is unable to provide evidence. And so, to the mind of the atheist, you are adding confusion to the world, while he is adding rationality; you are adding superstition and myth,while he is adding science and fact.
Is this so?
Let’s learn from the Bible. Let’s investigate faith in the gospel of Mark.
Here’s the first thing to understand. In English, we usually use one or the other of two words to translate one word in the Bible for faith. The Word in the New Testament is PISTIS. But we usually find it translated “faith” or “believe.” Underneath is the very same word. This fact in itself is helpful, because it signals us right away that here, as in other places, Greek and Hebrew and English do not exactly overlap. Translators often have to make decisions, settle for a word in one language which may not carry all the same meanings as in another language.
But let’s look at several of these. Again, we are just looking at the Gospel of Mark. Let’s begin with the word “faith” and turn to Mark 2:3-5.
When Jesus saw their faith. Faith was not something ethereal, or theoretical, or a subjective shot in the dark. They believed that Jesus had power to help the paralytic, as indeed He soon did (vv. 8-12). Because they thought it was true that Jesus could help, they went up onto the roof, peeled away the layers, and let the paralytic down into the room through the roof. Jesus “saw their faith.” Was this faith actual or imaginary? If you looked up from inside that room, there was a hole in the ceiling very real.
Our next passage is at Mark 4:35-41. A storm strikes the boat while Jesus and the disciples are passing across the lake in it. A great windstorm comes up. The boat is at risk. Jesus rises and commands the storm to be stilled. They were amazed. Jesus asked, them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” Jesus is asking, Why such absence of faith while they are in the sight of miracles? They did not imagine that He had stilled the storm, they saw Him command it and it was stilled. If we had the atmospheric readings, I believe we would have seen an actual change of humidity, of barometric pressure.
Next, Mark 5:25-34. Jesus is on His way to heal someone, to raise them from the dead in fact. But that is another story. On the way, a woman with a bleeding disorder makes her way through the crowd and touches Jesus. She is immediately healed. She tries to slip away quietly into the crowd, but Jesus leads her to acknowledge the miracle. Then Jesus tells her, “Your faith has made you well--be healed” (Mark 5:34). She is healed from that moment. Jesus healed her. But her faith made her well. Faith always means a connection between God and man, a cooperation, a transformation of something or of someone.
Mark 10:46-52 is quite similar. This time it is blind Bartimaeus. Jesus and he meet. Jesus asks what he would like Jesus to do for him. Bartimaeus responds that he wishes to have his sight restored. Jesus heals him. Then He tells Bartimaeus “Go your way; your faith has made you well.”
Our next passage is Mark 11:20-24. Jesus cursed the fig tree in the morning, and when later they pass by the tree, it is a dead, withered snag. The disciples marvel. Jesus’ reply is, “Have faith in God.” There was nothing to marvel about. When Jesus had cursed the tree, it was a foregone conclusion that it would instantly die.
In all these cases “faith” was no imaginary nothing-burger. In every case, it was change manifest in the real world. Before faith was engaged, things were one way, after faith was engaged, things were another way.
But let’s continue our study. As I mentioned, the same word is often translated “believe.” So let’s look at those cases in Mark. Please flip back to the front of the book of Mark, to 1:14-15. This is Jesus’ preaching at the beginning of His mission. He says, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.”
Jesus has come as before prophesied. But again, it is action, action on God’s part. The word “repent” of course, simply means to engage in an actual about face, a complete turn to the opposite direction. Repent and believe go together very well, because both are action words.
We already reviewed the story of the woman with the flow of blood that Jesus healed. But He was on his way to heal a little girl. She died while Jesus was moving toward her home: Mark 5:35-43. Jesus after healing that woman proceeds toward the house, although word has already been received that the young girl has died. Jesus tells her father, “Do not be afraid, only believe.” When Jesus arrives the professional mourners are already shouting and weeping and tumulting (s that a word?). Jesus asks why they are making such a noise. After all, the young girl is only sleeping. They laugh at Jesus. He puts them out of the room, and raises the girl to life. Jesus had told the father essentially, have faith. He did. And Jesus brought her back from the dead. But faith is something without evidence, eh? I’d say a dead body living again constitutes some kind of evidence.
Next, Mark chapter nine, verses 14-29. The mans child is afflicted by demon possession. Jesus’ disciples are unable to cast it out. Jesus says, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes” (v. 23). Jesus commands the demon to come out, and it did.
Same chapter, Jesus warns at verse 42 not to cause children who believe in Jesus to stumble. Faith is an important possession. To deprive another of it, or to weaken their faith, is a terrible thing to do to a person. Faith is a very precious plant.
Mark 11:23-24 is the withered fig tree again, only here the translators use “believe” again instead of faith. That tree Jesus made an enacted parable. This is very similar to several acts which God had prophets like Jeremiah and Ezekiel do in their prophetic ministry. From the Jews should have come rich, luxuriant fruit, but they were quite set on their rejection of Christ and hence, their own doom. They refused to believe, and without faith in Christ, they would wither and fail. Without Gods protection, the nation would be crushed under roman armies. They were so near yet so far away from Him. They could have been used of God, but the nation was barreling onward toward doom. Numerous miracles, overflowing evidence from Jesus even mean nothing if people determine not to have faith.
At Mark 11:3 the word is used as part of an internal argument between the scribes and pharisees so we won’t take time with it. There are five more references in Mark chapter 16 but we will leave those aside for now as well (mark 16:11, 13, 14, 16, 17). That just leaves 13:21 where Jesus warns His disciples not to believe those who are claiming Christ is here or there on the earth in contradiction to what God has revealed.
Faith and Evidence
This question of believing without evidence is an interesting one. Faith means belief without evidence, does it? Well. Suppose you have a friend. Over a period of time you have spent considerable time getting to know this person. This person has always been honest with you; everything they have ever told you has turned out to be true. Since you have known them, they have made nine predictions, and every single time, what they have said would come to pass, is exactly what has come to pass. Now, a tenth prediction is made. What would you expect to happen on the tenth occasion? The previous nine predictions have all come to pass. Is there no evidence? Or is there an evidence, not merely an evidence of experience, but of relationship? You know the person, you know something of their character, their motivations, their honor, their trustworthiness. So far, they are batting 100 percent on their predictions. You might have been unsure the first time. It’s fulfillment might have been a fluke, happenstance, pure chance. But then there was the second prediction. And it came true. Then the third, and the fourth, and so on. You may not understand how the person so consistently and correctly can know the future, and yet, it has happened every single time, nine times. I ask you again, what would you anticipate would happen at prediction number ten? Would it not be irrational to expect that it would not come to pass as have the previous nine?
But in Bible prophecy this hypothetical meets the empirical. The rise and fall of kingdoms, for example, in apocalyptic prophecy: Babylon falls, Medo-Persia rises, Medo-Persia falls, Greece rises, Greece falls, Rome rises, Rome is split into ten, the papacy rises, three are uprooted, the time of Papal supremacy ends, and so on. Those are just some of the apocalyptics. Then there are the messianic prophecies and the life and death of Christ all on time as seen in Daniel chapters eight and nine, as seen in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. And on it goes. God even locked Bible prophecy to human history, and invites us to check the events of history in comparison to Bible chronology. Luke 2:1-7 places the birth of Jesus indisputably in the flow of history for us to investigate.
Actually, when you believe in Jesus as the Savior of the world you are adding moral values like goodness to the world, while, when the atheist expresses doubt, he is contradicting the authentic story behind all our values and purpose behind our lives, while contributing myths and superstitions such as the theory of evolution. All these open the way for social constructionism, which incites us to attempt the replacement of our moral world, with a world of shallow, superficial values.
Satan wants us to reconstruct the world for ourselves. He hates nothing as much as our exercising faith in Jesus. Jesus healed the people of their diseases when they had faith in His power. If you believe the promise, God supplies the fact. But Satan’s whole program is to write God out of His own world, so that humans walk by themselves. There are so many subtle substitutes for faith these days. Do you have the real article? Listen to these two paragraphs from Ellen White’s Steps to Christ:
Where there is not only a belief in God’s word, but a submission of the will to Him; where the heart is yielded to Him, the affections fixed upon Him, three is faith--faith that works by love and purifies the soul (Steps to Christ, p. 64).
It is about more than facts. You cannot have true faith in Christ without giving your heart to Christ. The problem is not a lack on god’s part. The problem we have sometimes had was that we ourselves did not give our heart to Him, did not submit to Him. Perhaps we were afraid how thorough His work in us would be if we surrendered. We weren’t really certain we wanted Him to separate us from the things we were toying with. Then we did not believe even though we thought we believed.
Finally, one more word about evidence:
God never asks us to believe, without giving sufficient evidence upon which to base our faith. His existence, His character, the truthfulness of His word, are all established by testimony that appeals to our reason; and this testimony is abundant. Yet God has never removed the possibility of doubt. Our faith must rest upon evidence, not demonstration. Those who wish to doubt will have opportunity; while those who really desire to now the truth will find plenty of evidence on which to rest their faith (Steps to Christ, p. 105).
There is always evidence before the test of faith. We are not believing willfully based on nothing, because we wished there were something to believe in; rather, whenever we have believed we have done so after God gave us evidence for that belief already.
The Bible tells us of men and women who believed-had faith-exercised faith-responded to facts in their own actions. Was it foolish or fruitful when in the events described in Mark 5:25-34, the paralytics four friends let him down through the roof and Jesus healed him, and His faith made him whole? It was fruitful. And likewise for the other incidents we reviewed from the gospel of Mark, each in its own way.
We can always learn more about faith. The devils hate it when that happens. Jesus is pleased when it happens. You and I are helped when it happens. Onward to more fruitfulness!
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