Friday, September 17, 2010

The Scandal of Faith

St Thomas Aquinas says there are two arguments against believing in God. One is the problem of pain or the problem of evil. How could there be an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good being? Why does bad stuff still happen? There is a logical answer to this but the question still has force. Especially when we are in great pain.

The second argument actually has puzzled me more. That is to notice that we can reasonably disbelieve. Nothing in life would be unexplainable. The question then is why wouldn't God be obvious? The answer is that God chose to have us respond to him by faith. If he made Himself obvious like the sun or the ocean we could not believe in him by faith. We would have overwhelming physical evidence that would force us to believe. That is not faith. But why faith? Why does God make having a relationship with Him so hard? Especially when one consequence of that difficulty is that many people will end up in hell.

The answer lies in the same place. In free will and the dignity of man. The kind of change God wants to make in us is so profound and so deep that God refuses to force us. But He has made us rational beings. One way rational beings can be forced is through irresistible arguments or undeniable evidence. So he has made all the arguments resistible and all the evidence deniable. But at the same time, with the eyes of faith, the arguments must irresistible and the evidence undeniable. I mean people of faith are asked to surrender everything from private opinions to intimate relationships to material wealth even including their very lives. God can't ask rational beings to do that with no evidence or argument.So God needs something that one man will find compelling enough to reorder his entire life and the next man will have no trouble dismissing it entirely. This is what faith is.

What is more, people of faith need to be transformed into saints. Millions of people having their lives completely transformed by the power of God's grace. Yet people who don't want to notice should be easily able to ignore this fact. If it wasn't our reality we might think it impossible.

Look at John 16:7,8:
But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt
When Jesus goes away He removes the most power evidence of the resurrection. That is His live body walking around, eating, speaking, etc. This would be undeniable evidence. Somehow the Holy Spirit cannot operate until the undeniable evidence is removed. He works by faith. Faith only kicks in when sight fails. Faith allows us to come to God without losing our dignity as human beings. We can freely say "My Lord and my God" as St Thomas did in Jn 20:28. We are not being compelled. We are falling in love. God would not have it any other way.


  1. Not to disagree with you, but the way I would say it is, that faith is a gift of God, the grace of believing something because he has revealed it. It's not a worldly gift but a spiritual one. Therefore, while there are physical evidences for the truth of revelation, its essence is spiritual, communicated to our spirit by God's Spirit.

    If the physical or logical evidence were overwhelming or irrefutable, it would no longer be a spiritual gift but a mere natural conclusion. In a sense, we are asked to believe God despite what our senses tell us -- or don't tell us. Which is not to say that the physical evidence is contrary to the Gospel, but only that it doesn't necessarily compel us; it can be denied, as you say.

    Some say that the fact that the Gospel may be denied (why doesn't God just appear to me??) is evidence of its falsehood. But this betrays a positivist or materialistic point of view, which is contrary to the Gospel to begin with: It refutes the Gospel by defining spiritual things as non-existent.

    But on the contrary, if we have spirits, and if God is a spirit, then his Spirit can communicate his grace and his light to our spirits. Yet at the same time, since God created the physical and gave us our natural capacity for reason, the physical evidence and the evidence of reason will be harmonious with the Gospel; just not conclusive in and of themselves.

  2. Faith is a gift of God. It is also a choice. We need to cooperate with that grace. Once we go there the evidence is very convincing. One thing we see is that many objections are just not reasonable. The fact that God does not appear to me does not prove God does not exist. Just that if He does exist he does not work the way I would work. It is like concluding air does not exist because you can't see it. Logically we can only conclude that if it does exist it must exist in such a way that our eyes cannot sense it.