Wednesday, July 25, 2007

our reason or faith?

Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has: it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but--more frequently than not --struggles against the divine Word...

Martin Luther, Table Talk (1569)

Are we as God's children in Christ servants of the Word? Yes, we are. Word here Luther is refering to is Scripture. We are servants of the Word, Christ, as well as the word, Scripture.

As servants of the word of God we are in an optimal/most favorable place to be sure that it is the word alone that moves and dictates our existence, not our reason, experience or anything else. That must be our goal and endeavor.

I find Luther's quote here from his Table Talk (I need to get my copy of that) helpful. I find reason always wanting to help in unhelpful ways. Reason thinks it sees and knows best, and that it even sees according to Scripture. Yet I also find that dissecting reason, my reason from Scripture helps me see that it is taking me away from its pure (not in the sense of perfect, but in the sense of unsullied: the word alone) fulfillment of it.

I think a large part of what I'm getting at is found in Proverbs 3:5-6:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;

in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight

I find God's help and peace only when I submit to his word and am willing to cast my reason aside.

Reason is a gift from God but it is to be a servant of God's revelation. It is under God's revelation, not over. The problem is when it usurps the place of God's revelation or the place of God himself. And reason cannot be the interpreter of God's revelation found in Scripture and in Jesus Christ.

We are servants of the word of God. Let us live according to that word alone, placing ourselves under it and in so doing under the care, goodness and guidance of God.

What might you add to this?


odysseus said...

Some interesting thoughts here, Ted. I would like a clarification, though. When referring to 'reason' are you meaning 'our reason apart from Scripture'? That is, being Episcopalian, I see our reason motivated, taught, changed, and subject to, Scripture. But never apart from it. I don't think we, as Christian people, people you are supposed to read and study from Scripture all the time, I don't think we can separate our reason from Scripture.

Now, I completely agree that at times we want to be free from the (supposed) restraint of Scripture and just have our 'own thoughts and ideas', but I don't know if that is really possible for people who are continually eating and digesting Scripture. In other words, I don't know if it is as easy as 'either/or'. We may wish it to be, but I don't think so. Life isn't that neat.

What I see is this: We prayerfully read the Scriptures daily, we study them and church history to see how they have been understood in the past, then we make reasonable choices that impact our lives and our culture. We can't have one without the other. We need all three to make it work properly.

Now, again, I see how sometimes I don't want to do a certain thing (feed the poor, for example) because I don't feel like it or whatever, but it is at that moment that I have to ask 'Why do I feel this way?' Sure, I may just be stinkin' lazy and don't feel like it. But that is (probably) because I haven't spent my daily life in Scripture and study allowing them to shape my reason.

Peace be with you.

+ OD

PS: If I completely misunderstood, then this response is way off base. Sorry. If not, if I understand it completely, then it stands. :)

Ted Gossard said...

OD, Thanks for your thoughtful response.

All I think I'm saying here is that the base for us in a certain true sense is God's word/ Scripture. I'm not denying the importance of the Church and its interpretation of it, nor am I denying our human understanding and reasoning. But that our reason will be useful in all of this only as a servant of God's revelation, not as a usurper of it.

Kim said...

I think I see what you're getting at, Ted. I'm in the middle of this right now. I've been trying to apply strictly biblical principles to a conflict I'm involved in, but I'm being prevented from doing so because others believe it will hurt the other person's reputation - and in turn hurt the church. Is this the sort of "reason usurping scripture" that you're talking about?

Ted Gossard said...

Kim, That sounds like it could very well be.

I've recently found Bonhoeffer, in "Life Together" most helpful in the kind of situation you find yourself in, though you need to read it in its entirety, I think, though it's only around 110 pages.

Matthew said...

There has to be some reason, but faith can transcend logic.

NaNcY said...

yes, TRUST in God must go beyond our understanding. beyond our unanswered questions. beyond our feelings. and SUBMISSION to God is essential to being guided by God. God is the pilot, trust in Him to do what He does best with the right power to get you through and onto the shores of home.

Ted Gossard said...

Matthew, I agree, just as with all of Odysseus's statements. After all, God's word to us is in words conveyed to our minds, hearts and wills. God even says, "Come, let us reason together. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow." (Isaiah)

But like you say, it's not human reason that leads us, but God's word appeals to our human reason to some extent. Though at the same time the message of the gospel calls not for understanding, but for faith.

Ted Gossard said...

Nancy, Good way of putting it. Truly we must trust even when it goes against our understanding or sense.

Alan Knox said...


Thank you for this post. I've been teaching on "Trust in the Lord" from Proverbs for the last few weeks. I recognize that many people are struggling with reason and faith.

Hebrews 11 is often called the "Hall of Faith". The people listed there are responded to God in faith. They obeyed him. However, they were each called to do something that goes against human reason and logic. They did not trust their own understanding (reason and logic), instead they trusted God. Instead of trying to figure out how we should use our reason and rationalizing our decisions, we must return to responding to God is simple faith.

When God directs us, we move. When God commands us, we obey. It does not matter if what God directs or commands is rational or not. He is not looking for a rational decision. He is looking for a response in faith.


Kim said...

A recent example: A small group leader of mine put forward the thought that God does not "allow" evil. That, only good comes from God and Satan is the source of all evil. This caused no small stir within the group and derailed where the discussion really wanted to go.

I put forward that I had no qualms about the seeming contradiction of believing in an all-powerful, all-knowing, everywhere present God and the existence of evil in the world.

The small group leader called that "faith."

Ted Gossard said...

Alan, Thanks for those helpful words.

Ted Gossard said...

Kim, Yes. This is a good point you bring up for this discussion, the problem of evil. That really can't be resolved by us (to complete satisfaction), and therein, within that acknowledgement, can come true faith.

Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

I love this statement: "I find God's help and peace only when I submit to his word and am willing to cast my reason aside." It is so very, very true.

Thanks for your last comment - it was also very helpful - I think that it makes a grand, divine loop if you will - "we submit and count on God's faithfulness and God's faithfulness helps us to submit"

- the only thing I would add is that every time you go through the "loop", it just serves to strengthen our faith and ability to obey.

Ted Gossard said...

hm, Susan, Thanks for your added insight. And I couldn't find the last comment you commented on. That's okay.

Ted Gossard said...

One thing I'd add:

I talked about dissecting reason from faith, and maybe that's better than excising it, or cutting it out altogether (which I was going to change it to, but forgot), since reason is a gift necessary just to read God's word. And all the points Odysseus made as well.

I'm just making the point here that was made.

Ted Gossard said...

And that point, as Alan helps us see, is that often the faith we end up with goes contrary to our own human reason, and it really owes nothing to our reason, as to its source, I believe.

Lynet said...

Let me tip my hand -- open my hands -- in good faith before I start: I am an atheist. If you do not want my opinion, say so and I shall respectfully withdraw.

If you do not reason, how is it that you know to trust Scripture to begin with? After all, other people trust other Scriptures. Is this a cosmic shell game? If you happen to start out trusting one Scripture, you're all right; otherwise, you're damned.

If radical Islamists do not listen to their own conscience above what they are told to be God's will, how can we stop them from blowing things up? Don't you think this means that when your conscience tells you genocide is wrong, the fact that God is Biblically said to order it (multiple times) ought to bother you?

Ted Gossard said...

Lynet, You ask excellent questions. And I don't have sufficient time to answer them well, I'm afraid.

But a key for me is humans being made in the image of God. This solves nothing, if you look at the picture of God in just one or a few places as you cite.

But to see God through the face of Jesus Christ paints a quite more complete and last fulfilling picture.

God is holy, but is in essence love. Holiness and judgment and justice are merely expressions of his love. How it all shakes out in the end, I don't profess to fully know.

Atheism is also a statement of faith as is any religious creed, I believe.

Thanks so much for coming in, and I welcome your input anytime.

Ted Gossard said...

I would like to add to this that atheism as we know it now, is largely philosophically influenced by enlightenment modernism. A relatively new thing.

And people in faith have often been in trouble for mishandling their faith by wrong understanding.

Every Square Inch said...

I'll qualify by saying that I love Luther and I don't know the context of quote. However, I don't agree that reason is the enemy of faith.

Our ability to reason is a gift from God that promotes faith. If we look upon our cognitive, reasoning abilities with a sober assessment that it is limited but a gift from God to help us understand the world around us and its Maker, I think it is a help to faith rather than a hinderance.

Ted Gossard said...

ESI, I agree.

I said reason is the servant of revelation, but it certainly is not cast out. And it, indeed, can get in the way.

Lynet said...

Thanks for the welcome.

As regards atheism being a statement of faith, all I can say is that I attempt to reason objectively.

Moreover, no atheist could have written the post you just wrote, asking that people not use reason to try to figure out what the truth is. You could say that we have 'faith' in human understanding, but that strikes me as silly, because you can use it or you can not use it, but in the end, human understanding is all we can ever have. Accepting that and doing the best we can with it isn't faith, it's just using everything we have and making the best judgement we can, rather than skewing the judgement by declaring one source "infallible even when it contradicts itself because you just have to have faith".

Atheistic philosophies which try to use reason and promote happiness developed before enlightenment modernism, you know: the Epicureans, the Carvaka . . . it's not as modern as you think. Enlightenment modernism influences modern atheism, but the problem of evil was elucidated by Epicurus, and the Carvaka had several sharp critiques of the local afterlife beliefs.

Ted Gossard said...

Lynet, Thanks. I appreciate your knowledge and kind frankness in sharing it.

I have taken heat for the supposed discarding of reason. Actually though faith ends up being quite reasonable, though if there is a god it stands to reason that there may be some things beyond human reason.

If the god of the Bible is God, then it should not surprise us if, as creator, God calls his creation to obey. And if the story found in Scripture is true, then humans are bent to an opposite direction in our "sin" or deviance from real humanity. And that being the case, if so, then it makes it all the more less surprising that to follow our own understanding and sense of things could be problematical.

But again, I'm not saying reason is laid aside with reference to faith, and neither did Luther believe that.

I am saying that by faith reason begins to see in the world that the story in Scripture continues on.

This is probably all "old hat" to you. And I wish I was better well-versed in philosophy, and look forward to going to your blog to learn. But this is what I believe and stake my life on. And like I said, the key I believe is Jesus Christ himself.