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Everyone has faith. Atheists have faith. They construct their morality and frame their life purposes and even stake their eternity on their faith that there is no God, that this life is all there is. The reason that everyone can be said to have faith is that no one can see, hear or touch everything that ever is, was or will be. Not everything is tangible and empirical, not everything is experiential, not everything can be measured. The things (or lack of things) that fall outside of the tangible and visible have to be apprehended by faith, either denying or affirming their existence. Faith is not blind, there is always some evidential basis, whether that evidence is strong or weak.

I believe there is a place called Togo, even though I have never been there and probably won’t ever visit it. But I believe it exists because I can read about it in books and on the internet, meet people from Togo, send money to sponsor a child in Togo and receive letters from him, see Togo on a map and find out from a travel agent how to get there. I believe those resources because I trust them, that there is no world-wide deception or conspiracy to make me believe that Togo exists when it really doesn’t. I believe in God, too, even though I can’t see him, because I trust the sources that testify to him; general revelation, the argument from design, the Bible, his work in history and in his church and in the lives of people, including myself. Does any of this constitute absolute “proof,” in the way God actually appearing to me in a blaze of light and performing an undeniable miracle would? No, any more than the evidence for the existence of a place called Togo “proves” it is any more real than Narnia — from my insular perspective. But faith that God or Togo exist is not blind faith, even if we might argue about the relative validity of the evidence for each. It’s different from believing in something that is purely a figment of my imagination, like sentient puddings or edible sounds; that is just imagination, not faith.

The Bible defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the proof of matters not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). In other words, faith is what fills the gap that exists because we can’t see and touch everything. The thing about faith is, it affects the way we think and speak and act. It impacts our lives, in a way that purely imaginary things don’t. If I weigh the evidence and decide that I do not believe there is a God, that is an act of faith, and it means I will live my life differently than I would as a believer in God. As an atheist, I would not need to frame my morals and conduct by a higher authority, I could use my best judgement and act autonomously toward whatever ends I desire in this life, confident that I will not be called to account in the hereafter. However, if I believe that I am a creation of God, then he has authority over me and I will try to live my life according to his design, knowing that I will answer to him. In either case, I stake everything present and eternal future on my faith that God does — or doesn’t — exist.

The power and validity of faith does not lie in how firmly you believe in something, or how adamant or inflexible you are in that belief. The power and validity of faith depends on who or what you believe in. If I firmly and immovably believe in, say, a used car salesman who turns out to be a shyster, the problem is not that I didn’t believe resolutely enough, the problem is that I chose a poor object for my faith, and I will be let down. If our faith is in our own goodness or strength, we will let ourselves down. We need to put our trust in Someone who can deliver, and when we do, that faith is a great source of comfort and encouragement.

Hebrews 11 goes on to explain what should be obvious, that faith in God is fundamental to actually drawing near to him; for how could we have a relationship with someone whom we don’t believe exists? But there’s more to it than that: “without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). The existence of God is not a matter of indifference. It affects our lives one way or the other, because it’s not just an intellectual assent to the existence of a supernatural entity, but an acknowledgement that God rewards those who seek him, and he will judge all humankind for their response to him. The issue is not “belief” as an abstract entity, such as whether llamas have colour vision (important as that may be to the llama). It is the basis of our whole worldview and conduct. Because the important thing about faith, that makes it commendable or foolish, is the object of our faith.

If I say, “I believe the Queen,” that implies that she has said something which I have reason to accept as truthful. But if I say, “I believe in the Queen,” that is a statement about how I value her as a person, and the monarchy as an institution. It implies that I consider her to have personal integrity and worth and that I would support her in some observable way. (Ranging from buying a tea towel with her image to dying for her). Likewise, to believe in God is not just an intellectual acknowledgement of the probability of a higher Being, like contemplating life on other planets, because a Creator God, by definition, is Someone who made us, has invested in us, and just might be owed some form of allegiance. Belief in “God” implies that that Being can impact my life, that there is some incentive for me to draw near to him. For the Christian, it also means a belief in what God has revealed about himself in his word the Bible and through his Son Jesus Christ.

When the Bible talks about faith and believing with respect to God, Jesus and Scripture, it goes way beyond assent to true or false propositions, or buying souvenirs. Biblical faith shapes the worldview and life of the believer, because of Whom it is that we believe in. Hebrews 11 provides a catalogue of faithful people to drive this message home. In each case, the person acted because they believed in something that they couldn’t see, because they had faith in the God who gave them the instruction or promise. Abram, the father of the Jewish nation, had much less “evidence” for the existence of the Promised Land than I do for the existence of Togo, but he believed God and set out for it. This is why the apostle James insists that faith without works is dead. Real faith goes beyond an academic understanding, an intellectual acknowledgement that “there may be a God” (James 2:19). Real faith in God affects our lives and shapes our thinking. It causes us to act in ways we would not otherwise act, just like the people in Hebrews 11. “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18). To claim to have faith in God but to act as if he does not exist is to have dead faith, to actually not believe in him, really.

The heart of the counter-cultural Gospel is that we are saved by God’s grace, his totally undeserved favour toward sinners, grace we apprehend by faith in his Son Jesus (Ephesians 2:8–9). This is not something that comes from us, it is not a question of our merit in any way or to any extent. It is not a matter of, “See how good/godly/deserving I am, because I have so much faith!” Faith is not like physical strength or financial security, that we might boast in and go around proving how strong or rich we are. Faith is actually born of weakness, emptiness, spiritual bankruptcy. Faith is an empty cup which we hold out to be filled by God’s grace. The power of faith lies not in the one who has faith, but in the One who is the Object of faith. To trust in anyone or anything less than God is not real faith, it is foolishness. The atheist has faith, but in what? In nothing greater than him or herself, ultimately. “Let him not trust in emptiness, deceiving himself, for emptiness will be his payment” (Job 15:31). Faith in emptiness, in the blind chance of mutation and the ruthlessly impersonal forces of natural selection as the explanation of our lives in all their complexity, at least as great a step as belief in a God who created with a purpose, is a faith without hope. It gambles eternity on the belief that there is no God, because in our limitations we can neither see nor comprehend him. And to what end? It is a faith bereft of purpose, a faith in utter emptiness. Jesus of Nazareth, a man whose existence and enormous legacy are matters of historical fact, made some extraordinary claims, “Believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1). He gave his early followers enough evidence for them to put their faith in him, with world-changing consequences. Faith in him is the basis for hope; “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25–26). There is no greater Object for our faith.

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