I have a bunch of thoughts in my mind, and I have doubts that I’ll be able to share them as coherently as I’d like too. So, please cut me some slack as I attempt to pull some thoughts together. On this blog, I frequently address the issue of faith and doubt. For some of us (like me!) faith can be a real struggle. We want…answers, certainty, proof. This is good to a certain extent, as a blind or non-thinking faith is not healthy. God gave us brains and wants us to use them. But there is a risk of our doubts overtaking our faith. We need to accept that no matter how much we research and ponder that some questions will remain unanswered. To have absolute certainty or proof is the empirical realm of math or science. We can not have this expectation with the Christian faith. Other areas require faith too…such as history. Consider this quote:
The heart of scientific method is verification. Historians cannot achieve verification because the events have disappeared into the past. History cannot be reenacted. There is something amusing about the spectacle of historians seeking absolute verification. Proximate verification must depend on the testimony of witnesses and the evidence of past documents fairly and honestly analyzed. The documents of ancient history are available largely on a chance (not a rational or equal or deliberative or extensive) basis, whereas evidence of physics are everywhere available for current experimentation. These factors limit historical inquiry so as to make it non analogous with physics. – Thomas C. Oden
I think the point I am attempting to make is that it takes faith to believe in history too, yet this is not a problem for most people. However, the reconstruction of history can be a tedious and complex task where biases and presuppositions can come into play as the evidence is examined. Historians sometimes only have available a limited number of ancient sources and may have to “connect the dots” and make educated guesses to reach conclusions. Most of us are perfectly okay with this and accept what is in our history books. We aren’t overwhelmed with doubts about Alexander the Great or Napoleon nor are we obsessed with having every possible discrepancy or debatable point resolved.
But somehow when it comes to Christian faith (which also involves ancient history) we suddenly want to apply scientific standards of verification and mathematical logic. Of course, there are some differences here. Christianity makes some unique truth claims…such as that Jesus was God incarnate or that the Bible is the inspired Word of God to us. Other historical figures or ancient books don’t make these claims. So, there should be a higher standard and expectation for the Christian faith.
Yet, we also must remember that God stepped into history at a certain point in time. God had to work within the limitations of that time. When Jesus walked the earth, there were no computers, video cameras, recording devices, etc. The life and teachings of Jesus were documented in the only way that it could be back then – initially through oral transmission (a common way of passing on history and knowledge back then) and then put into writing in the Gospels and other New Testament books. When we consider the documented evidence for the life of Christ, I think we are often guilty of applying 21st Century standards to ancient sources, and that is not fair. We are comparing apples to oranges, instead of apples to apples. When historical scholars study ancient texts they use the standards of accuracy for back then, not now.
I have opened the doors to a bunch of other issues that need to be further discussed! Please know I was trying to make some more general points. In conclusion…A healthy faith should ask questions, expect some answers, and some rational reasons to believe. But we also need to have reasonable expectations. We can’t apply post-enlightenment scientific standards and logic to matters of faith. Faith requires a degree of uncertainty, or it is not faith. There is indeed something amusing about the spectacle of those seeking absolute verification of the Christian faith.