Faith and Reason

Is this going to be complicated? Aren’t faith and reason opposites? Isn’t the point of faith that you don’t have reasons for what you believe? Isn’t reason all about evidence, so what is the point of faith?

How is that we know about God? How do we know about the supernatural? Well, some of us have had experiences, right? We’ve had things happen that we can’t explain. We’ve asked for help and something so remarkably coincidental occurred that we can only explain it as divine intervention. Or we’ve felt a love so strong that we believe it must have been God’s presence.

Maybe we take what we know from authority. The Church or the Scriptures have said something to be true, and so we believe it to be true. That is a source of knowledge of God.

Some have argued logically for the existence of God. Anselm of Canterbury argued that if you can think of the greatest possible being in your mind, then it must exist in reality. René Descartes also argued that we can infer the existence of God from the idea of a supremely  perfect being. This is called the ontological argument.

But we can also receive knowledge of God from grace. Prophets and apostles received divine revelations from God. They had direct access, a clearer picture. So that would be the fourth means of knowing about God.

What if you are a rationalist, though? You aren’t going to like authority or grace. If you are agnostic, you aren’t going to be sure about experience or reason.

Now, think about this. If you are interested in learning about God, if you are going to be able to listen and learn anything from anyone else’s experience, you are going to have to give some credence to authority to be able to do that.  Right? If your neighbor tells you that she had prayed and the answer was so remarkable a coincidence that it could only be described as divine intervention, then you are going to have to allow some authority to her experience. Either her experience is valid or invalid. So what about an historical experience? What about an experience that has been recorded and written down? There must be some authority to that record for your to accept it as evidence, right? But what about experiences that were recorded historically but not written down? What about oral tradition?

There have been miraculous events throughout history. These miracles are not just spectacular events to make us “oh” and “ah,” They teach us about God. As they connect through history, they progressively reveal who God is. We see them interpreted in the Scriptures and in the Church. It is true that both the Scriptures and the Church were written and lead by men who were lived in real times and places and cultures and were products of those times and places and cultures. And those factors are evident in their writing and in their leadership. However, they were guided by the Holy Spirit, guaranteeing that what they wrote and taught were trustworthy. When the Scriptures are rightly interpreted, they confirm the authority of the Church. These two pillars provide the proper foundation for Reason, and without them both, Reason will never achieve a right understanding of God.

Reason is a process of observing, interpreting, and applying truth to our lives. It’s not just an exercise of the mind. It can involve the emotions, the will, and eventually even the body.

Faith actually does a similar thing. But Faith has the assistance of grace. With that grace, Faith observes, interprets, and applies God’s truth to our lives – things that we would not empirically reason on our own.

We can know God, because this grace is available.

Grace and faith give us access to more information than would be available empirically. However, we will still use human reason to process this information once we have received it.

That’s why we cannot fully know God, but we can truly know God.


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