My dad sent this to me the other day on Facebook (of all places) and I really liked it so he gave me permission to post it here. He wrote it last spring.
By Faith We Understand
By Pastor Cliff Horr
A common perception, at times even among followers of Christ, seems to be that faith and understanding are somehow exclusive or in some way contradictory. In discussions of origins and forensic science there can seem to be almost an unspoken agreement that facts and faith exist in different spheres or on separate planes. How often has it been said, rightly, “I believe the Bible is true,” or “I believe the story of Noah and the Ark.” We have told our children that they are to believe that “God created the heavens and the earth in six literal 24 hr. days.” This is valid but may be intellectually and even Biblically unsatisfying. Scripture challenges us to more closely associate Faith and Fact, Belief and Knowledge, with the simple statement: “By faith we understand [know] that the universe was formed at God’s command”.
C.S. Lewis, in “Mere Christianity”, made the wonderfully simple point that
Ninety-nine per cent of the things [we] believe are believed on authority. Every historical statement in the world is believed on authority. None of us has seen the Norman Conquest or the defeat of the Armada. None
of us could prove them by pure logic as you prove a thing in mathematics. We believe them simply because people who did see them have left writings that tell us about them: in fact, on authority. A man who jibbed at authority in other things as some people do in religion would have to be content to know nothing all his life.
We are always forced to believe facts based on the trustworthiness of our sources.
At the same time we are confronted with the constant challenge of gathering and understanding information: facts. It is here that the Bible gives us an interesting challenge: it is “By faith that we understand…”
First, without apologies, faith always precedes true understanding. It is most natural and obvious and necessary that children begin by believing what we tell them until they arrive at understanding for themselves. “Faith comes through hearing…” Faith never comes through “believing”, that is nonsense. Understanding, however, is always grounded in faith.
Second, yes, we are commended to faith: “Believe on the Lord Jesus.” “…these are written that you might believe.” Scripturally, faith is, without apology, greater than reason or knowledge. The gulf between, however, if there must be one, is not large. Rather, that distance must be treated as somewhat temporary. We are specifically commanded not to simply “believe” certain things, but to “understand” or “know” them.
Peter does not say we are to believe that Scripture is in fact that which “men spoke from God”, but that we must “understand”, or “know” it: “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation…”(2nd Peter 1:20) We are commanded to be convinced of Scripture’s historical accuracy and reliability, not simply to believe it.
Again, Peter, speaking by the Spirit, doesn’t tell us to “believe” that scoffers will come in the last days, (which takes no faith at all for we have lived to see it fulfilled). He tells us we must understand these things. In the same context, we do not simply take the history of the flood by faith, which is good; we go on to “know” all we can of that earth-shattering event. Yes, I believe the Biblical record, but I have looked and read and dug in the dirt and now I know. My faith began the study, my study only confirms and increases my faith. I no longer only say I believe the story of Noah and the worldwide cataclysm, I do, I’m also beginning to understand the event. Do I believe God created the heavens and the earth in six literal 24-hour days? I’ve believed this since I was a child. Now, as I read and study facts, I know it to have been so.
I no longer only believe the Bible is God’s Word, I have come to know it to be so, and I can prove it by facts: Manuscripts, fulfilled prophecy, archeology, transformed lives. I find that as I take God at His word I am free to see and begin to understand the world around me, the world as it was and the world that will be. “By faith we understand.”