Tag Archives: Faith

The Telescope of Faith

Messier 96 galaxy viewed by Hubble Space Telescope, courtesy Nasa.gov.
Messier 96 galaxy viewed by Hubble Space Telescope, courtesy Nasa.gov.

The last couple of weeks have been about the evidential nature of faith and how it is the result of “divine persuasion”[1], of seeing the evidence God has provided us, and recognizing that the source of that evidence can be trusted. When I first started rock climbing in college, I quickly learned that how far I got off the grounded depended on how much I trusted my climbing equipment. I had to put my faith in my climbing shoes, rope, harness, and anchors. But once I saw they were trustworthy, it was “game on!” But faith is applicable in far more of life than just rock climbing. And in the current book I’m reading, J.C. Ryle looks at the life of Moses as an example of faith lived out.

In his classic 19th century book “Holiness“, Ryle makes this brief but insightful point about Moses’s faith in God: “Faith was a telescope to Moses.” In the context, Ryle was referring to how Moses’s trust in God helped him to see past all of the trials and pain to the Promised Land of Israel. But I think this analogy goes so much farther. Hebrews 11:1 gives the most direct definition of faith in the Bible when it says “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”[2] Ryle develops the first part of that definition with his idea of a telescope in that Moses’s faith gave him assurance of the hoped for result, but today I just want to highlight how the telescope of faith applies to the second half of that definition as well.

Living in Nevada for 10 years in an area away from the lights of towns was a nightly reminder of Psalm 19 when it says that “the heavens declare the glory of God.”[3] The stars and the Milky Way were so much more visible there compared to where I live now. But as beautiful as those starry nights in Nevada were, I was seeing only a fraction of a fraction  of the majesty of the cosmos that we see now through our large optical telescopes, our simply gigantic radio telescopes, or our space-based telescopes like Hubble that are unhindered by the atmosphere. Groups of pinpoints of light have now been revealed to be these awe-inspiring systems of billions of stars of all different sizes surrounded by enormous, beautiful gas clouds. In some cases, we see more structure and beauty looking at these systems in the portion of the spectrum we can’t see than we do in the normal range of visible light. Mapping the universe in ultraviolet, infra-red, microwave, and X-ray radiation has revealed things we never would’ve been able to prove existed by our normal unaided sight alone.

Yet… it wasn’t any of these telescopes that made those things reality. The various telescopes simply showed us the reality we couldn’t see. Just as we see the stars above and dimly recognize the grandness of the universe, the evidence we see points us to God and we place our faith in Him. But then a strange thing happens. As we trust Him, He opens up the shutter on the faith telescope, and we begin to see the full spectrum of life, so to speak. We thought we were seeing all the evidence for God, and it was sufficient to answer His call to follow Him, and yet it was only His calling card! Now, we find His signature everywhere we look, written in the nanoprinting of every cell; written in hidden mosaics of life now suddenly obvious to our faith-trained eyes; written so large across the horizon of the universe in galaxy-wide letters that we laugh that we missed them before.

Maybe you’ve heard, or maybe you’ve said, that faith is “blind”, that it is belief in spite of the evidence. And yet all of us place our faith in different things each day, whether it’s rock climbing equipment, or the aircraft (and its pilot) taking us on our next business trip, or the brakes on our car. And all of these can be untrustworthy instances of misplaced faith. Let me encourage you, friend, to put your trust – your faith – in the only One who won’t let you down. Don’t live your life with blinders on, only seeing a narrow spectrum of reality, when the Author of reality has so much more to show you.


[1] “Faith” comes from the Greek word πίστις (“pistis”), derived from the root word πείθω (“peitho”) meaning to be persuaded.
[2] Hebrews 11:1, NASB.
[3] Psalm 19:1, NASB.

“See For Yourself”

http://www.doreillustrations.com/bible/p7-078.html
Jesus & the Samaritan Woman – Gustav Dore

Last week, we looked at several passages in the gospel of John that deal with the evidential nature of biblical faith. Let’s look at a couple more instances today, along with a potential objection. The 4th chapter of John’s gospel tells the stories of Jesus meeting first a Samaritan woman at their local water well,[1] and then a Jewish nobleman on His return to Galilee.[2] Although the Samaritans were normally despised by the Jews, and it was frowned upon to talk to a woman (Samaritan or otherwise) in public in that culture (see v. 27), Jesus had a lengthy conversation with the Samaritan woman, and we see several interesting statements made. The woman left her water pot at the well and went back into the city and told the people there, “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ (i.e. the Messiah), is it?” She invited them to come see for themselves whether this man might be the promised Savior. Rather than simply dismissing her, they went out of the city to where Jesus was to investigate for themselves. Later in the passage, John says that “from that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, ‘He told me all the things that I have done.'” They then asked Jesus to stay with them 2 more days, and John notes that “many more believed because of His word; and they were saying to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.'” This was not like a cursory glance or half-hearted listening. The Samaritans invested enough of their time in listening to Jesus for many of them to weigh His words and become convinced that Jesus was who He said He was.

After this encounter, Jesus left Samaria, and, coming to the region of Galilee, he went to Cana, where He had performed His first public miracle. Here, He met the desperate father of a deathly sick child. The man had traveled roughly 25 miles from Capernaum to ask Jesus to come to his home and cure his boy. Jesus seems to reprimand the people here for wanting evidence when He says, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe.” And yet, John records Jesus later telling the Jews in Jerusalem, “If I do not the works of My Father, believe Me not.”[3]

How do we reconcile these 2 different responses regarding belief based on evidence provided? It’s important to note at the beginning of this account (v. 46), that this was in Cana, where He had already demonstrated His power. It seems that His scolding here is due to their desire for continual demonstrations – for proof beyond proof. As John Gill says in his commentary on this passage, “they required signs and miracles to be wrought, in confirmation of Christ’s being the Messiah, and which indeed was but right; and Christ did perform them for that purpose: but their sin of unbelief lay in this, that they wanted still more and more signs; they could not be contented with what they had seen, but required more….”[4] Like a jury in court, at some point we have to recognize that we’ve seen and heard enough evidence to reach a reasonable decision even if we didn’t get every question answered exhaustively. Despite that rebuke, though, the man pleaded again for Jesus to come and heal his son. Jesus, not needing to travel to heal the son, told the father, “Go; your son lives.” It used to be said that “a man’s word is his bond”, and the father took Jesus at His word, trusting that the deed was done, though he might not understand how. Then he acted on that trust and left for his day-long journey home. When he was partway home, his servants met him to say the son had recovered. John then tells us that the father asked them for the time of the recovery, and they told him the fever left the boy “at the 7th hour”. John continues, “So the father knew that it was at that hour in which Jesus said to him, ‘Your son lives’; and he himself believed and his whole household.”  As Matthew Henry commented on this verse, “The diligent comparison of the works of Christ with His word will be of great use to us for the confirming of our faith…. He had before believed the word of Christ; but now he believed in Christ.”[5]

In John 4, we see two different cases of people deciding to believe in the deity of Jesus. The Samaritans were convinced by His words, while the Jewish nobleman was convinced by His miraculous actions, but neither accepted Jesus’s claims blindly. The Samaritans came  to hear and decide for themselves based on what Jesus said and what they knew of the promised Christ, while the nobleman verified the boy’s recovery wasn’t natural by comparing the time of recovery with the time of Jesus’s pronouncement. As Paul later wrote to the church at Thessalonica, “examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good.”[6] But you must examine what you’re presented with before you can hold on to the good and discard the bad. Don’t bypass that critical step and throw out the evidence Jesus confronts you with before examining it and “seeing for yourself” the truth of it.


[1] John 4:39,41-42, in particular, NASB.
[2] John 4:45-53, NASB.
[3] John 10:37, NASB.
[4] John Gill D.D., Exposition of the Old and New Testaments – OSNOVA Kindle Edition, 2012 (1763 original), Location 276230 (John 4:48).
[5] Matthew Henry’s Commentary in One Volume, (Zondervan, 1961) pp. 1528-9.
[6] 1 Thessalonians 5:21, NASB.

“Look and See”

Sherlock HolmesOne thing I love about Christianity is the evidential nature of our faith. That may surprise some people to hear those terms used together, but Jesus didn’t ask people to believe on “blind faith” as some would like to assume. I’ve written before on how the very word translated from the Greek as “faith” in our Bibles speaks of being persuaded by evidence or proof. You can find that article here. Today, I want to look at a few more Scripture passages that deal with that evidential nature of faith for some of the first people to follow Jesus.

In the 1st and 2nd chapters of John’s gospel account, we see several instances of people deciding to believe that Jesus was the Messiah (or Anointed One). When Philip had decided to follow Jesus, he told his friend Nathanael that he had found the One foretold by Moses and the prophets, and that it was Jesus of Nazareth. When Nathanael asked skeptically (and maybe a bit sarcastically) if any good thing could come from the poor village of Nazareth, Philip’s  reply was “come and see.” When Jesus greeted Nathanael with “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!”, this surprised him – “How do you know me?” Jesus answered that “before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Maybe this reference to the fig tree held some special significance to Nathanael to warrant the following response, for he replied with “Rabbi, You are the Son of God, You are the King of Israel.” Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t congratulate him for this quick assessment, but rather seemed to question his sudden jump: “Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these. Truly, truly, I say to you, you shall see the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”[1] It seems that Jesus wasn’t looking for disciples who would follow just anybody that came along.

After that, Jesus performed His first miracle when He turned water into wine at a wedding feast in Cana. Immediately after that account, John writes that “This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.”[2] Their belief followed a sign. John tells about Jesus being in Jerusalem at the Passover, and says that “many believed in His name, beholding His signs which He was doing.”[3] For those people also, belief followed a reason to believe. And again, in the same chapter, John talks about Jesus prophesying that He would die and rise from the dead, although they didn’t understand what He was saying at the time. But then John writes that “When therefore He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture, and the word which Jesus had spoken.”[4] This was the ultimate proof.

After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to His disciples, but one of them wasn’t there – Thomas. Although the others told him that Jesus was alive and appeared to them, he was skeptical. His famous response that he wouldn’t believe until he could put his fingers in the nail holes in Jesus’s hands, and put his hand into the gaping spear wound in Jesus’s side, has earned him the nickname “Doubting Thomas”. But what was Jesus’s response when He came back and Thomas was present? Did He strike Thomas dead for his skepticism? Or for his wanting proof? On the contrary, He told Thomas “Reach here your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand, and put it into My side; and be not unbelieving, but believing.”[5] And what are the words used for believing and unbelieving? They are the words πιστός (pistos) and ἄπιστος (apistos), respectively. Pistos is the Greek word typically translated as “faith” and comes from the root πείθω (peitho), meaning “to be persuaded”. Apistos is the negation of that, and means one who is unconvinced. Jesus offered Thomas the chance to verify for himself that it really was Jesus, and then told him to let the evidence persuade him and not remain unpersuaded in spite of the evidence.

So did it persuade him? Yes! What was Thomas’s immediate response? He cried out, “My Lord and my God!” Though the rest of his story isn’t recorded in the Bible, church tradition records that “Doubting Thomas” took the gospel to Nineveh (near the modern day city of Mosul, Iraq), and then went on to India, where he was eventually run through with a stake after a confrontation with local Brahmin (Hindu priest caste) who were angry about his preaching and refusal to worship Kali.[6] And yet there are still Christians in India today that trace there spiritual heritage back to Thomas, just as there were in Mosul until ISIS ravaged the city 2014. From skeptic to martyr, Thomas’s journey speaks of a life-transforming persuasion just as strongly as Paul’s change from zealous persecutor of Christians to the “Apostle to the Gentiles” (i.e. non-Jews). But such a transformed life is the natural result of fully understanding how firmly grounded your trust in Christ really is. Borrowing from Philip and Jesus, “Come and see” the evidence for yourself, but then don’t stop there. Believe.


[1] John 1:45-51, NASB.
[2] John 2:11, NASB.
[3] John 2:23, NASB.
[4] John 2:22, NASB.
[5] John 20:24-28, NASB.
[6] Riley K Smith, Restricted Nations: India, Tales of Glory, (Bartlesville, OK: Living Sacrifice Book Co, 2009), pp. 14-15.

Making It Personal

engineering-plansThere was an interesting article in the May 2015 issue of Civil Engineering magazine that got me thinking. Their ethics column dealt with the question of misuse of a professional engineer’s seal and made the following statement:

“Inherent in the message carried by a P.E. seal is the element of personal knowledge. With so much trust placed in an engineer’s assessment of professional documents, it is essential to know that the engineer is certifying the documents not on the basis of blind trust or an unsubstantiated belief in another’s work but because he or she has had sufficient personal involvement with the documents to know whether or not they meet the standards of the profession. Accordingly, the requirement of personal involvement looms large both in state licensing laws governing the use of an engineer’s seal and in the codes of conduct….”

Looking at this aspect of my life as a professional engineer and as a professing Christian, I see some parallels between the two.

  1. Personal knowledge is required in both cases. I shouldn’t stamp engineered designs that I didn’t personally design or thoroughly review. Likewise, I shouldn’t hold my Christian beliefs (or any, for that matter) just because they were my parents’ beliefs, or because they are generally socially acceptable where I live. I have to own them; I have to make them mine. But I don’t do that simply by accepting someone else’s beliefs unquestioned. They may be right, or they may be wrong; and ideas have consequences – some more serious than others. If I mistakenly trust a friend’s incorrect directions and take a wrong turn, the effects may be pretty minimal. But if the stakes are higher, like a life-or-death decision, it’s critical that I take full responsibility for that decision and choose wisely. If my eternal future is at stake, that’s not a decision I should (or even can) delegate to someone else. That’s on me, and “not to decide” is to decide.
  2. Blind trust or unsubstantiated belief may be accidentally correct, but that’s simply not sufficient for important decisions. A bad engineering design passed through supervisors and peer reviewers without adequate scrutiny can endanger thousands of people. A false belief, accepted blindly, can condemn countless people to an eternity apart from God. So it’s critical for each of us to examine ourselves, to understand both what we believe and why, and to verify that our beliefs are well-grounded, justified, coherent, and truthful. Our beliefs need to be warranted.
  3. Personal involvement – i.e. action – is required. If I’m stamping calculations or drawings done by someone else, it’s incumbent on me to personally act in a couple of ways. First, I need to take whatever action necessary to verify what I’ve received is correct before I stamp it. However, I also can’t fall victim to “paralysis by analysis”. I can either accept them as justified or reject them as insufficient, but I need to decide one way or the other. In examining my own beliefs, or prospective beliefs, I have to recognize that short of being omniscient, I won’t have every possible question answered to the nth degree when it comes to making a decision, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t make a reasonable, well-informed decision based on the evidence I do have. The absence of exhaustive data doesn’t mean I don’t have sufficient informative data to take action.

I want to avoid so-called “blind faith” in both my engineering and my Christian life. I want to “know whom I have believed” as the apostle Paul wrote[1]. In the words of Elton Trueblood, “Faith is not belief without proof, but trust without reservation.” Rather than being blind, only Christian faith is sufficiently well-founded to allow trust without reservations to be warranted. God doesn’t ask us to put our trust in just anything. In fact, He doesn’t want us trusting our eternal life to anyone other than Him. This is why the apostle John tells his readers to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”[2] This is why Jesus pointed people to evidence of His authenticity, attested to by the miracles He’d done in the sight of those questioning Him.[3] This is why God always reminded the Israelites that He was the God who had led them out of Egypt, who had miraculously fed them in the wilderness, who had driven their enemies before them when they were ridiculously outnumbered by vastly superior forces.  These reminders were a constant call to put their trust in His proven power and love and faithfulness, in His repeated demonstrations that He is the only one worthy to be worshiped and obeyed. It’s a call He still issues to us today, to “taste and see that the Lord is good”[4], to “come and see”[5] for ourselves that He is our only hope, and to make Him our personal Savior.


[1] 2 Timothy 1:12, NASB.
[2] 1 John 4:1, NASB.
[3] John 10:22-39, Luke 7:18-23, NASB.
[4] Psalm 34:8, NASB.
[5] John 1:46, NASB.

Blind Faith?

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net“Blind faith”. I’ve heard atheists use the term as an insult to Christian opponents – “I believe in science and not blind faith like you.” Surprisingly, I’ve heard some Christians use it almost as a badge of honor  that they had such complete blind faith.  So what is the biblical perspective on faith? Is it really “believing something strongly in spite of a preponderance of evidence to the contrary” as atheists would claim? Is it a step into the unknown, taking God at His word, so to speak, with no reason whatsoever, as some Christians would claim? Or is there another option? What does the Bible itself say?

Hebrews 11:1 is the most famous definition of faith in the Bible: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Here, and in most other places translated as “faith”, the Greek word used is πίστις (pistis) or one of its related forms. This word can be translated as faith, belief, trust, confidence, or proof. Looking at secular Greek sources, Herodotus used it to refer to a pledge or military oath[1].  Other secular authors such as Aeschylus, Democritus, and Appian used the word to denote evidence from the senses or from eyewitness testimony, or proof of intent deduced from observed actions [2].  The Alexandrian Jewish philosopher Philo used the term pistis in his writings 156 times with the sense of evidence in over 50% of those instances [3]. Aristotle used the term to describe various “proofs” for convincing someone of your case through reason and logic [4]. This word for faith sounds like it was often used by secular sources as a justified belief based on observation, logical or philosophical reasoning, or testimony and solemn oaths. But we can dig a little deeper yet. The word pistis is derived from the Greek word πείθω (peitho), meaning “to persuade”. Are you persuaded blindly by any assertion you hear, or by evidence, by sound reasoning,and by common sense? It makes sense then that Aristotle would use pistis to describe the proofs of the art of rhetoric (persuasion).  It seems that Biblical faith is anything but blind. Rather, it is “God’s divine persuasion” [5]. It is also interesting that the word translated in Hebrew 11:1 as “conviction” in the NASB translation is ἔλεγχος (elegchos) which means proof, and is derived from ἐλέγχω (elegcho), a verb meaning “to convince with solid, compelling evidence; to expose, refute or prove wrong.” [6] Faith could be said to be God’s divine persuasion of the reality of the supernatural things we can’t observe with our natural senses.

So then, if our faith is more of an evidentially persuaded trust by definition, are there any supporting passages to confirm that is what biblical writers like Paul understood when using words like pistis and elegchos? Below is a partial list of supporting passages.

 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.” Matthew 22:37-38

“And because of His words, many more became believers. They said to the woman, ‘We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.’” John 4:41-42 (NIV)

 To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.” Acts 1:3 (NASB)

 But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good…” 1 Thessalonians 5:21 (NASB)

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 1 John 4:1 (NASB)

We are to love God with all that we are, including our mind. Jesus repeatedly appealed to the evidence He presented to people, not the least of which was Him being alive after being scourged, crucified, and having a spear run through His chest.  Paul tells us to  examine everything carefully, while John urges discernment specifically in spiritual matters. In the end, I have to say that we don’t check our brains at the church door, and if we do, we’re not following the example set before us in Scripture. For while blind faith in the truth may still benefit us, it is an accidental benefit that could just as easily be a blind faith in error (such as cults). Thorough, honest investigation only destroys faith in error; but it only builds faith in what is true.


[1] The Histories, Book 3, Chapter 8, Herodotus. Viewable in English or Greek at The Perseus Project.
[2] Pistis as “Ground for Faith” in Hellenized Judaism and Paul, David M. Hay, Journal of Biblical Literature, 1989, 3rd Quarter, p. 461.
[3] ibid. p.463.
[4] Rhetoric, Aristotle, Book 1, Chapter 1:3, 4th century BC, Kindle Edition. The word pistis or one of its forms is translated as “proof” here and throughout the rest of the 3 books.
[5] Biblehub.com word study of pistis (Strong’s #4102).
[6] ibid, word study of elegchos (Strong’s #1650).