By Luke Nix
So many people, both religious and non-religious, believe that faith is purely emotional, and in most contexts people imply the word “blind” before “faith”. While few others believe that faith is logical- that it is firmly grounded on something. Lately, I’ve been reading the book “Emotional Intelligence” by psychologist Daniel Goleman and a few thoughts came to mind regarding this seeming dichotomy between faith being based on emotion versus being based on reason. Before I go into that connection or disconnection, though, I want to establish what I mean by “faith”.
Faith in Time
I hear people all the time say that they “have faith”. It seems to inspire them and those around them, but it often leaves me confused. Sure, someone can say that they “have faith”. But when I hear this, I am compelled to ask a few questions:
- “What do you have faith in?”
- “What makes you believe that thing is worth placing your faith in it?”
- “Why do you need to put ‘faith’ in something anyway?”
Without answers to these questions, faith is empty, contentless, blind: merely a verbal platitude but ultimately vacuous. If faith is to be significant it requires content. From what I have seen, it appears that for faith to have content, three essential things must take place at three different points in time: the past, the present, and the future. All three are necessary; if one is missing, then we cannot say that someone has meaningful faith. So, if the “something” is identified at these three levels, this means that faith is not empty or contentless, there is something significant to it.
- Past– Experiences with something or someone (foundation)
- Future– The unknown (need)
- Present– Trust (action)
Based on prior trustworthy experience, we must trust the person or thing in the present because the future is unknown. If we do not have any past trustworthy experience to justify trusting someone or something, yet we still say we have “faith”, then our faith is blind. If there is no future unknown, then trust is not really needed, thus any “faith” we say we have is imaginary. If we don’t actually place our trust in the person or thing with the unknown, yet we say we have “faith”, our words are not backed up by our actions. In all three of those cases, faith does not exist. All three -the past, present, and future- are required for faith to actually exist in a person.
Objects of Faith
I like how Ravi Zacharias puts it: “Faith is that which is based on the rationality and the reasonableness of that which has already been revealed.” (Zacharias 17:25) What we decide to use as the object of our faith will depend on our experiences or revelations with different possible objects of faith. Some trust science. Some trust government. Some trust reason. Some trust themselves. Some trust God. Every one of these possible objects of trust is tested by the person. The test is as simple as reviewing past experiences with that object in situations when promises were made or understood. This is a very logical way to approach who or what to trust (or not to trust) with the unknown. Thus, we have a very reasonable and logical approach to faith.
Where The Emotion of Faith Meets The Logic of Faith
However, emotion plays a huge role here also. Goleman explains: “When some feature of an event seems similar to an emotionally charged memory from the past, the emotional mind responds by triggering the feelings that went with the remembered event. The emotional mind reacts to the present as though it were the past.” (Goleman, 295)
It is the emotional part of our brain that gives past experiences their thrust. We have a vivid recollection of experiences that impacted us regarding the trustworthiness of someone or something we depended upon. If we believe that something(one) followed through with the given or understood promise, then we associate positive emotions to that experience. But if we believe that something(one) did not make good on given or understood promises, we associate negative emotions to that experience. When faced with a similar future unknown, we will tend to act (place trust) based upon those previous experiences (revelations).
However, we are not stuck with certain emotions to certain objects once they are “written” in our memory. The brain is highly malleable. As we obtain more verifying experiences, the satisfaction with an object of faith grows, and our ability and willingness to trust it with the unknown future is more solidified. On the flip-side, As we obtain more experiences that confirm the untrustworthiness of a possible object of faith, the less we have the ability and willingness to trust it with the unknown future.
This has great implications for the Church in general and apologists specifically:
The Church– We need to be extremely careful in how we approach and treat people (believers or not). Every interaction that we have creates a memory with someone. If that interaction was negative, not only will people question your trustworthiness, but they will also question those you associate with (including your beliefs). We must take responsibility to properly represent Christ to everyone- even those in the Church. Not everyone who claims to be a Christian is one; they may be looking for a reason to reject Christianity, let’s not give them one by treating those we believe to be our brothers and sisters in manners that are not Christ-like.
Apologists– This is a critical point in our defense of Christianity. Many skeptics do not trust God and/or the Church due to painful experiences with Christians (and/or those they believed to be Christians). We have to understand that when we ask them to trust Someone they believe has failed them, to them we are making the most unreasonable request of them. We would be equally put off if they asked us to place our trust in someone who had failed us in the past. Goleman explains again:
“The emotional mind takes its believes to be absolutely true, and so discounts any evidence to the contrary. That is why it is so hard to reason with someone who is emotionally upset: no matter the soundness of your argument from a logical point of view, it carries no weight if it is out of keeping with the emotional conviction of the moment.” (Goleman, 295)
The brain’s malleability is not quick, but it is strong. This is both good and bad. What is good is that someone who is placing trust in something that actually is untrustworthy (though their experiences with it may point to trustworthiness) can still redirect their trust away from that unreliable object and place it in someone that is truly reliable. Also, if someone does not trust a potential object of trust due to perceived untrustworthiness, it can be reversed.When we present negative arguments, we are attempting to show the unreliability of their current object(s) of faith. When we present positive arguments, we are attempting to show the reliability of alternative objects of faith. This is gone into more detail in my post “Positive and Negative Arguments“.
Patience Is A Virtue
When damaged, trust is something that is rebuilt slowly- the emotional associations to a particular type of event must be changed. More damage requires more time and more effort. We must be patient. We can present logical arguments, but only in their due time. That time comes as the emotional connections are being changed and the heart is being transformed through Christ acting in our lives to establish the positive emotional connections. Which prepares the person to accept the logical arguments used to demonstrate the reliability of the Christian God as an object of faith.
When the time comes to give the logical arguments, we can demonstrate the unreliability in their previous object of faith (further challenging and changing the emotional ties): the negative arguments. At the same time, we must offer logical arguments to trust in Christ: the positive arguments.
Timing is Everything
Notice that this is quite dependent upon timing; timing we cannot possibly know because we do not know the state of the person’s heart at any particular time. We can get hints based on behavior and conversations, but those can be purposely misleading or misinterpreted. It is only through prayer and the willingness to let Christ guide our delivery of the Gospel that a person may be added to the Kingdom. As I have said in previous posts, we cannot argue someone into the Kingdom. It requires a change of the heart, that only God has the knowledge and the resources to accomplish. We, as the members of the Body of Christ, should feel humbled and blessed that God has chosen us to be one of his many resources.
Why Is Faith Emotional and Logical?
Faith in anything is not just emotional or logical, it is both. Faith also is not practiced only by a certain type of people, it is practiced by everyone. In the words of Ravi Zacharias: “God has put enough into this world to make faith in Him a most reasonable thing. He has left enough out to make it impossible to live by sheer reason alone.” (17:39) There is a very specific design and purpose in this reality: that we can possess knowledge of reality, but never enough that we become too prideful to stop searching for the Source of everything that we know, to discover that the Source of that knowledge is personal, loves us and is worthy of our worship and trust. God created us to be both logical and emotional. It is only in the discovery and knowledge of who God is, that our insatiable search for knowledge is completed; and our faith in Him, no matter how emotionally difficult and painful it may be, is eternally vindicated and appreciated in the presence of the Source of all knowledge, the Foundation of reason, the Creator of our emotions, and the “Finisher of our faith.”
Another great post is by Carson Weitnauer: Is Faith Opposed to Reason?
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