Aug 042006
 

In light of some of our recent discussions, I thought this is interesting.

Alister McGrath
Doubt and the Vain Search for Certainty
2006 –Å“ Summer

We cannot see God; we cannot touch him; we cannot demand that he give a public demonstration of his existence or character. We know of God only through faith. Yet the human mind wants more. “Give us a sign! Prove it!” It is an age-old problem. Those who heard Jesus’ teaching wanted a sign (Matthew 12:38) — something which would confirm his authority, which would convince them beyond any doubt.

To believe in God demands an act of faith– as does the decision not to believe in him. Neither is based upon absolute certainty, nor can they be. To accept Jesus demands a leap of faith– but so does the decision to reject him. To accept Christianity demands faith– and so does the decision to reject it. Both rest upon faith, in that nobody can prove with absolute certainty that Jesus is the Son of God, the risen saviour of humanity– just as nobody can prove with absolute certainty that he is not. The decision, whatever it may be, rests upon faith. There is an element of doubt in each case. Every attitude to Jesus– except the decision not to have any attitude at all!– rests upon faith, not certainty. Faith is not belief without proof, but trust without reservations– a trust in a God who has shown himself worthy of that trust. To use a Trinitarian framework: God the Father makes those promises; God the Son confirms them in his words and deeds; and the Holy Spirit reassures us of their reliability, and seals those promises within our heart.

These points are reflected in the American writer Sheldon Vanauken’s account of his mental wrestling before his conversion at Oxford. He found himself caught in a dilemma over the role of proof in faith, which many others have experienced.

    There is a gap between the probable and the proved. How was I to cross it? If I were to stake my whole life on the risen Christ, I wanted proof. I wanted certainty. I wanted to see him eat a bit of fish. I wanted letters of fire across the sky. I got none of these … It was a question of whether I was to accept him– or reject him. My God! There was a gap behind me as well! Perhaps the leap to acceptance was a horrifying gamble– but what of the leap to rejection? There might be no certainty that Christ was God– but, by God, there was no certainty that he was not. This was not to be borne. I could not reject Jesus. There was only one thing to do once I had seen the gap behind me. I turned away from it, and flung myself over the gap towards Jesus.

There is indeed a leap of faith involved in Christianity– but it is not an irrational leap into the dark. The Christian experience is that of being caught safely by a loving and living God, whose arms await us as we leap. Martin Luther put this rather well: “Faith is a free surrender and a joyous wager on the unseen, untried and unknown goodness of God.”

All outlooks on life, all theories of the meaning of human existence, rest upon faith, in that they cannot be proved with absolute certainty. But this doesn’t mean that they’re all equally probable or plausible! Let’s take three theories of the significance of Jesus to illustrate this point.

    1. We have been redeemed from sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
    2. Jesus and his disciples were actually the advance guard of a Martian invasion force, who mistook earth for the planet Venus on account of a navigation error.
    3. Jesus was not really a person, but was really a hallucinogenic mushroom.

excerpt from RZIM

  One Response to “Doubt and Certainty”

  1. Well said teleologist! Something that really struck me was Dan Graves comments on Godel’s work.

    Godel’s theorem’s and truth

    Hofstadter says, “Godel showed that provability is a weaker notion than truth, no matter what axiomatic system in involved.”(4) In other words, we simply cannot prove some things in mathematics (from a given set of premises) which we nonetheless know are true….

    As a third implication of Godel’s theorem , faith is shown to be (ultimately) the only possible response to reality. Michael Guillen has spelled out this implication: “the only possible way of avowing an unprovable truth, mathematical or otherwise, is to accept it as an article of faith.”

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