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BUILDING A FIRM FOUNDATION FOR YOUR BELIEFS
By MARK MITTELBERG, Jane Vogel
TYNDALE HOUSE PUBLISHERS, INC. Copyright © 2013Mark Mittelberg
All rights reserved.
Excerpt CHAPTER 1
WHAT IS FAITH AND WHO HAS IT?
Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.
Think about your day so far.
This morning, you got up and had something to eat—by faith—trusting that nobody had laced your food with poison. Perhaps you stopped by a coffee shop and you relied on the character behind the counter not to put some kind of harmful substance in your triple-shot, extra-foam latte. You got to work—maybe even took an elevator?—and sat in an office chair without testing it first to see if it was strong enough to hold you. (This can be a highly dangerous activity. I read once—and I know it had to be true because it was on the Internet—that someone sat on what turned out to be a defective chair; it broke, the man was injured, and the accident led to his eventual death! So you just can't be too careful.)
You started your computer and typed in some confidential information, even though you knew that the latest Internet virus could hijack that information and broadcast it to everyone in your address book. During your lunch break you went out for a walk and paused to pat a stranger's dog, assuming you would not join the ranks of the 4.7 million Americans bitten by a dog each year (of whom, on average, 2,425 require medical attention every day).
Then, at the end of the day, you steered your car onto the road and headed home, trusting (but not really knowing) that some sixteen-year-old NASCAR wannabe wouldn't be out drag racing his friends and come careening toward you at an extreme rate of speed.
No doubt about it—you live your life by faith every day, even in the mundane details. What is faith? My broad definition is beliefs and actions that are based on something considered to be trustworthy—even in the absence of absolute proof.
You believed the food was safe, so you ate it; you trusted the chair would hold you, so you sat in it; you've had luck in the past with computers, random canines, and commutes home—so why not try them again? You didn't have conclusive evidence that any of these things would work out, but the odds seemed to be in your favor, so you went for it. All of us do similar things—routinely.
We live by faith not only in the small, everyday details of ordinary experience but also in the bigger issues related to religion, God, and eternity. We all adopt "beliefs and actions" related to these areas, "based on something we consider to be trustworthy—even in the absence of absolute proof." So if you are a Christian, you're trusting in the teachings of Christ; if a Muslim, you're trusting in the teachings of Muhammad; if a Buddhist, you're trusting in the teachings of Buddha.
Even nonreligious people live in the trust that their nonreligious beliefs are accurate and that they won't someday face a thoroughly religious Maker who, come to find out, actually did issue a list of guidelines and requirements that they failed to pay attention to.
"Oh, I never worry about things like that," someone may say. But that statement itself is an expression of faith—faith that it's okay not to concern oneself with such matters. You don't know that they are unimportant—you just assume that to be the case. That's part of the person's own particular version of nonreligious faith.
Even well-known atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris live their lives accepting an unproven assumption that there is no God and that the opinions they express about these matters are ultimately helping and not harming people. They don't know they are correct—they just believe and act as if they are.
In fact, Dawkins, who is probably the best-known activist for atheism of our day, admitted recently that he was only "6.9 out of seven" in terms of his certainty that there is no God, adding, "I think the probability of a supernatural creator existing is very very low." Prior to that, in an interview in Time magazine, he acknowledged that "there could be something incredibly grand and incomprehensible and beyond our present understanding."
Biochemist Francis Collins, who was arguing in the interview for the other side, shot back, "That's God."
Dawkins replied, "Yes. But it could be any of a billion Gods. It could be God of the Martians or of the inhabitants of Alpha Centauri. The chance of its being a particular God, Yahweh, the God of Jesus, is vanishingly small—at the least, the onus is on you to demonstrate why you think that's the case."
Whether the chances are big or small, the important thing to catch here is that Dawkins doesn't know there is no God—he even concedes the possibility that some kind of God might actually exist. Rather, he takes it on faith that there actually is no God, and goes on with his routine of belittling people's belief in God and writing books like The God Delusion.
Now, I'm sure Dawkins would argue that his is an educated conclusion that is supported by the preponderance of the evidence. But even if he turned out to be right (I'm betting my life he won't), it wouldn't change the fact that his conclusion is a belief that he holds in the absence of real proof. In other words, it's a conclusion that seems to him to be the right one, based on the data he's been willing to examine—but one that goes beyond what can be known with certainty.
That's just the way life is. We all live by some form of faith—in something. Which leads us to the central question of this book: Is ours a well-founded faith? A wise faith? A faith that makes sense and is supported by the facts? One that works in real life and is worth hanging on to?
More personally, is yours a faith you've really thought about and intentionally chosen—or did you just slide into it at some point along the way? Is it a faith about which you can be genuinely confident?
* * *
When I went to college, I came to the painful realization that I'd grown into my faith quite passively. I'd been raised believing in Jesus, trusting in the Bible, and accepting that the church was the carrier of God's truth. I had an unsubstantiated confidence in the truth of all of this.
Then I signed up for a philosophy class. My professor, a religious man with a degree from a radically liberal seminary, seemed to delight in dismantling what he considered to be the simplistic beliefs of many of his Christian students—and I felt like one of his favorite targets. He pointed out problems with the Bible, with what he referred to as "traditional views about God," and with most of the rest of the things I'd been taught. His intellectual onslaught woke me up and made me face the fact that I'd bought into a belief system that I barely understood and had never critically analyzed. My superficial confidence melted away quickly.
Not knowing how to respond, I went to my church for help—but I have to admit that my initial attempts to get answers from some of the leaders there were pretty disheartening. For example, I told one of my adult Sunday school teachers that my faith was being assailed in college and that I needed a deeper understanding not just of what we believed but also of why we thought it was correct.
"How do we know that the Bible is really true," I asked, "and that it is actually God's Word?" I'll never forget his response.
"Oh, that's easy," he replied. "It says right here in the New Testament that 'all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for inst
Excerpted from CONFIDENT FAITH by MARK MITTELBERG. Copyright © 2013 by Mark Mittelberg. Excerpted by permission of TYNDALE HOUSE PUBLISHERS, INC..
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