Berean cogitations

Friday, December 16, 2005

Did Abraham exercise blind faith?

Many people—including both skeptics and Christians—insist that faith must necessarily be blind. They claim that it should not be based on any form of logic or evidence. This is a popular view, but I believe it betrays a severe misunderstanding of the nature of faith. Faith does not require absolute proof, but for this faith to be justified, it must have some manner of evidence—some reason for believing. Otherwise, our beliefs become either arbitrary, inconsistent or capricious.

I believe this is consistent with the Biblical model of faith, as well. Note that the Bible never says “Ya just gotta believe, folks! Don’t ever ask why! Just believe!” Quite the contrary; God’s Word says that we are to “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in [us]” (1 Peter 3:15). God doesn’t expect us to believe blindly, for that is how people become deceived. Rather, we are to “test all things” so that we may hold fast to that which is good (1 Thess 5:21).

Recently, someone tried to convince me that beliefs do not have to be rational—that there’s nothing wrong with subscribing to beliefs that have no logical foundation. “Why do irrational people need to start thinking rationally?” he asked. In his view, there is nothing wrong with subscribing to beliefs that are not logically justified.

As an example, he pointed to Abraham, the patriarch. Abraham, he claimed, was a man who exercised blind, irrational faith—someone who believed God without any thought or rationale. To defend this claim, he cited Genesis 12:1-4a, which says,

Now the LORD had said to Abram:

“Get out of your country,
From your family
And from your father’s house,
To a land that I will show you.
I will make you a great nation;
I will bless you
And make your name great;
And you shall be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
And I will curse him who curses you;
And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
So Abram departed as the LORD had spoken to him, and Lot went with him.

I think this illustrates how people often read too much into a given text. True, this passage does say that Abraham (or Abram, as he was known at the time) believed God; however, it does not say that he believed blindly. In truth, we do not know why Abram chose to trust in God; merely that he did.

Abram trusted God, but there's no reason to believe that God had not previously manifested himself and demonstrated his faithfulness. In fact, since Abram apparently recognized God's voice, it's reasonable to surmise that he had previously been in communion with the Almighty. It’s entirely plausible that God had already demonstrated his faithfulness to Abraham, and so he chose to trust in the Lord.

(Now, I don’t want anyone to misunderstand. I’m not saying we should be skeptical of the things that God says. Not at all. What I am saying, however, is that we can trust God because throughout history, He has demonstrated himself to be trustworthy. Additionally, if anyone gives us a prophecy or a command, we need to test these things thoroughly to make sure that they truly come from our Lord. Trusting blindly in such things can lead to untold deceptions.)

Additionally, let us consider Genesis 11:10-26, which shows the genealogical descent from Noah’s son Shem to Abram. This passage proceeds as follows:

This is the genealogy of Shem: Shem was one hundred years old, and begot Arphaxad two years after the flood. After he begot Arphaxad, Shem lived five hundred years, and begot sons and daughters.
Arphaxad lived thirty-five years, and begot Salah. After he begot Salah, Arphaxad lived four hundred and three years, and begot sons and daughters.
Salah lived thirty years, and begot Eber. 15 After he begot Eber, Salah lived four hundred and three years, and begot sons and daughters….

…and so forth, and so on. Now, if you crunch the numbers, it becomes clear that Shem was still alive during Abram's lifetime. Furthermore, if you consider that Noah was 600 years old when the flood came (Genesis 7:6), that he died at the age of 950 (Genesis 9:29), and that Abram was born only 292 years after the flood (Genesis 11:10-27), it becomes clear that Noah himself was still alive! In other words, Abram had ample opportunity to hear about God's faithfulness in the Great Flood, perhaps even from some of the original survivors in the Ark! In fact, given the tremendous historical and spiritual significance of this event, I’d say that it’s virtually certain that Abram would have heard about God’s faithfulness from such unimpeachable sources.

Does any of this provide absolute proof that Abram trusted God because he had seen or heard how God was worthy of our faith? Admittedly not. However, it does show that we should not hastily conclude that Abram was a man of blind faith. If anything, we have indirect evidence that Abram had heard reliable sources testify to God’s faithfulness, and that Abram himself was in communion with the Almighty.

I, for one, am thankful that our Lord does not expect people to follow him blindly! I’m thankful that he makes himself manifest in myriad ways, and that he demonstrates his faithfulness abundantly. Praise God for his blessings!