This fall, The CW launched a new show focusing on DC superhero The Flash, known also by his civilian identity: Barry Allen. As a kid, Barry witnessed the death of his mother, committed in supernatural fashion- a lightening storm indoors, and a man inside the storm- and being a child he did the only thing he could do and ran. Unfortunately, the rest of the world had a different account of what happened that night and his father was convicted of the crime.
But Barry believed what he saw and committed to following every lead, every story, every rumour of supernatural activity, hoping against hope to find evidence corroborating his account of what happened that night. The show picks up with him as an adult, a mostly well-adjusted young forensic something or other with somewhat of a normal social life- except for this one obsession.
I wonder what makes a person so certain that contrary testimony from every single other person does nothing to sway their confidence; that even though the wisdom of the age aligns itself against their worldview, they remain unmovable.
Is that the picture of faith we have in scripture? Are we essentially believing the unbelievable, shutting our minds to the objections of the sin-addled society around us until Jesus takes us to heaven someday and rewards our persistence?
Early in my faith journey, I remember times of frustration with certain anti-intellectual elements I perceived in the church. It seemed to me that Christians were a people who refused to ask tough questions and weren’t interested in the answers. “Just believe” was the mantra and I knew I wasn’t built to function like that.
Then someone handed me a copy of C.S Lewis’ Mere Christianity and the horizon of my faith was opened to a whole new dimension of spiritual engagement. This was my permission to wrestle honestly with challenges to faith. I couple of years later, I read Reason for God by Timothy Keller and I made up my mind- rather subconsciously, mind you- not to believe anything about God I couldn’t rationally explain.
God is, however, much bigger than we can understand. Rationality, I’m coming to find, is a remarkably shaky foundation for faith. The adage goes, “Nobody has ever been argued into the kingdom of God.” I can imagine Paul speaking to Western Christians in similar manner to the first century Galatians, “Why foolish Canadians! Who has bewitched you? Did you receive the Spirit by rational argument or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now trying to sustain your salvation by logic and reason?”
This isn’t to deny the place of reason is sustaining our faith. I remain deeply indebted to the writings Tim Keller, C.S Lewis, John Piper, and the ever controversial Mark Driscoll in helping me bridge the gap between truths hidden in ancient narratives and the context of modern life. I still find myself incredibly frustrated if a preacher depends of fallacious arguments or weak reasoning in crafting a sermon. If you want me to adhere to your doctrinal position, you must be willing to engage honestly with the real and honest objections brought about by my experience as a 22 year old interacting with 21st century society.
But to a surprisingly large degree, faith requires a willingness to believe the unbelievable against the wisdom of many who “know better”. The real world presents so many opportunities to doubt God’s sovereignty, or His goodness, or His justice, or even His presence. We will never know why we, or those around us, experience the things we do no matter how much theologizing we attempt. I attended a funeral this summer that should not have been necessary if God is truly fair. No amount of page turning in scripture makes sense of it. I know many people who would be much better suited to work on university campuses in Uganda and a few careers I feel better suited for, yet I can’t shake the certainty that I’m called to share Christ in Ugandan universities for the next three years.
At some point, we have to accept “I don’t know” as a certainty in faith. Some periods of our lives will require us to obey without knowing why. Scripture says, “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9). Sometimes, that’s the only assurance we have.
So what is meant to sustain us if not intellect? What assurance do we have to help us persevere when we have doubts? How can we continue looking for the man in the lightening storm when everyone else offers a more reasonable explanation?
I thought about this and the only answer I have, personally, is the internal witness of the Holy Spirit. Paul encourages the church in Rome saying, “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16). When I can’t see God at work, when I have more questions than answers, there’s something on the inside saying, “Just go on a little longer.”
Sometimes, God’s spirit doesn’t move in easily definable ways. We don’t always hear God’s voice or have dreams. We may not even feel any particular connection in our times of prayer, scriptural meditation, or in the practice of any of our spiritual disciplines. Between the Old and New Testaments is a 400 year period in which we have no record of God’s revelation (most evangelicals don’t consider the Apocryphal writings from this period as canon). Yet when the New Testament opens, we see the people of God retaining much of their faith and practice, even after being conquered.
There are times when Christianity is an exercise in blind faith, and yet it’s God who enables us to keep faith even in these times. This is the confidence David expresses in Psalm 23. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”
We will experience victories of logic and reason in defending our faith. We will have times of deep spiritual refreshment and witness God at work in supernatural occurrences. We will also walk through extended periods of doubt and questioning, times in which God seems no more than a flight of wistful fantasy. Through it all, God will carry us. He is the foundation on which our faith stands.
“Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You’d walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”
He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.”
-Margaret Fishback Powers, “Footprints in the Sand”