Category Archives: Faith in God

I am sorry, but what do you mean by reason here?

What is ‘reason’?  In the biggest part of contexts it seems to me that the words reason or reasonable are used to mean something like what sounds intuitive to me.  So when someone expresses a belief that seems right, we say that’s reasonable.  But what we mean is really, what seems intuitively right.  The problem here is that being intuitive and being reasonable are two entirely different things.

Something is intuitive when it fits easily with other things that we believe.  When a new argument or piece of information fits coherently and easily into our other beliefs, then it feels familiar.  Psychological studies find that beliefs that are familiar seem true.  We regularly confuse truth and familiarity in intuitive thinking.  If someone says something that we have heard before, we are likely to believe it simply because we’ve heard it before.  Interestingly this is true even if no new evidence is presented.  (This explains why certain ideologically driven news sources intentionally repeat slogans or ideas over and over.  The more familiar it sounds, the more true it sounds.  No arguments need to be given.  Just repeat the slogan over and over and it will have the right effect.)

Rationality is an entirely different faculty.  Presenting and evaluating arguments for a certain view while making the appropriate distinctions is a slow and difficult task.  It takes mental work to slowly sift through the claims, the evidence, etc.  This process is usually rather unpleasant and it takes a long time.  Conclusions reached in this way are measured and subject to revision.

Thinking rationally is often so painful, that we (all of us, you included, dear reader) usually depend upon intuitive judgements rather than on the slow and laborious task of thinking a thing through.  But it is important to note here that when we reach conclusions in this way we know only that they are intuitive that is, they seem right given the other things that we believe.  Being intuitive is often good enough for most daily tasks, but it is very different from claiming that a belief has been researched and examined in the slow and critical process of reasoning.

Calling intuitive beliefs rational has at least one major negative side effect:  it makes everyone who disagrees with you irrational by default.  If the only things that are reasonable (as I use the word) are things that are intuitive (to me), then no one can disagree with me without becoming unreasonable.  This is dangerous to our intellectual lives because we don’t take unreasonable people seriously.  This way of thinking will tend to cause us to ignore our critics and opposing points of view because who wants to take the time to think hard about what irrational people say?  That is why it is important to note that these beliefs are merely intuitive, not necessarily rational.

Should We Fear God?

There are two claims made by Christians that seem mutually exclusive.  Christians claim that God is Love.  And they claim that we should fear God.  Wait.  Why should fear God if God is so kind?  What is there to be afraid of? How to find answer on our questions?

A lot if people believe that ‘fear’ in these passages should be understood in the sense of awe.  But in this post I am going to use the term fear in its contemporary classic sense.  It seems clear to me that in many passages in Scripture this sense of fear is the natural one to invoke (e.g., Exodus.)  In this post I argue that one would be crazy *not* to fear God.  Once we understand what God is, any sane person would respond with at least some measure of fear.

Why?

Because God has three features which taken together produce reasonable fear in people:

(i) God has absolute control over ours lives

(ii) but He cannot be manipulated or controlled in any way, and

(iii) He cannot be fully understood by us.

These three facts when put together make it reasonable to fear God.  Because when it comes to God we are absolutely subject to a power that we can neither control nor even fully understand.  To not be at least somewhat afraid would mean that you don’t really get it.  You are entirely and absolutely subject to this power and you have no idea what He is going to do with you.

But what about all of that God is Love stuff?

The message that God is infinitely loving and benevolent is, frankly, surprising to us.  We would not know this from nature as it currently is.  There is a lot of suffering along with the wonderful beauty.  When prophets tell us not to fear and to trust that God is infinitely loving and has a greater plan that we cannot see it is a hard message.  It sure doesn’t seem that way.  But, of course, things are not always as they seem.  Julian of Norwich was told by God that all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well (Revelations of Divine Love.)  She found this message hard to believe and meditated about it for the rest of her life.  She worried about where the idea of hell fit in.  She became convinced both that hell is real and that all will truly be well.  She considered this unsurprisingly! a deep mystery.

Faith or trust in God is required because we cannot understand or control him.  This faith or trust, I think, ultimately arises as a response to reasonable fear.  We are afraid of our dependance and unknown future so we choose to trust.  We trust that God is loving and that all will work out in some unexpected way.  It seems to me as though real faith cannot exist except along side real fear.  Or as they say, fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10).