Saturday, 21 April 2012

To believe... or not to believe (Part 2)

It might be an opinion held that to belief per definition means not to know. I suppose this is true, as we need to make the distinction in how we know. To believe means that we haven't personally encountered the object in which we believe. For example, if we see a cat, we can say that we know the cat is there. This is not belief, but if somebody comes to us and says "the cat is sitting outside in front of the door" then we have the choice to either believe him or not as we cannot see the cat. We don't know if the cat is really outside.

So simply said, to believe means that we accept somebodies else his witness. However, this does not exclude that we cannot reason about the fact. And I think this is something that is not often thought through. If our friend says that the cat is sitting outside we can either believe him or not. But in doing so it doesn't mean we cannot look around and see if we can see the cat. If we don't see the cat then it confirms that what our friend says is plausible.
That is maybe not the best example, but what I like to get to is that to believe does not mean we need to completely switch off our intellect. While our faith, our believe in God, might be based on the testimony of others, for example the eye witness accounts as found in the Bible, it does not mean we cannot investigate and confirm that the facts mentioned are true. Part of this is for example to test the history of the Bible, to see if what is handed down to us is actually a representation of what happened.

If there is a God who has made the whole universe then we can assume that there is no contradictory evidence that that is not so. And knowing this, we can actually verify that it is a very plausible explanation for what we see around us. Philosophy can be a great help in this regard, helping us to understand this, but also the natural sciences are a help to us. There is no contradiction between what science has discovered about the universe and the articles of our faith. In fact, it seems to me that with the progress of science and the recent discoveries which are made that our faith gives a stronger certainty.

Faith itself, the believe in God, is a gift from God. It is given to us, helping us to start a relationship with God. It helps us to understand things which in themselves are beyond our capacity to know. This, however, is a gift, a gift that is offered to us, and a gift that we can reject. I was reading the Summa and Thomas Aquinas says that if we don't have faith because we never received it it is in a way a punishment (II-II.10.3). In context he was not directly aiming at the punishment of not having direct communion with God, but when I read it that was what came to my mind directly. Ignorance of the faith is in a way a punishment because of the joy we miss during this life. With faith the world comes to life in a way it doesn't without.

To explain what faith exactly is on an experiential level is very difficult, exactly because it is much deeper than anything we can easily express. But it is a reality which is a firm disposition in our lives, and maybe it can be explained as a deep sense of peace, of hope or of understanding. But all such terms fall short of the real experience.

Faith helps us to search, to search for God. God wants to be found! It is a search for a deeper and deeper communion with Him. It is also a search for truth. If God is truth, then we cannot discover anything that contradicts this, and so we can't (or at least I am convinced we can't!). Faith as such can help us to better understand the world, as its articulates and helps to reflect on the world as a whole.

Blaise Pascal says in Pensées that "if you do not take the trouble to know the truth, there is enough truth at hand so that you can live in peace. But if you crave it with all your heart, then it is not enough to know it".

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