Faith AND Reason: Our Natural Quest for God
“Faith is a habit of the mind whereby eternal life is begun in us making the intellect assent to what is non-apparent.” – Thomas Aquinas
The following is the second part in a three part series, by contributer Dan Doyle, about Hope, Faith, and Love (1 Corinthians 13:13). To read part 1, click here now.
Faith is reasonable. There are two orders of knowledge: we know by natural reason, and by Divine faith. The object of one is truth attainable by natural reason, the object of the other is the mystery hidden in God, which can only be known to us by Divine revelation.
Faith may have many definitions, but in the end it is something that is natural to the human mind and soul. Even those who claim to be unbelievers believe in something greater than themselves, or they would not be moved to do anything for any reason, noble or otherwise.
To put it in simple terms, without faith we would not lay our heads down to go to sleep each night, if we didn’t believe that we would get up the next morning to live another day.
It is reasonable that we recognize that there are things that are beyond our human knowledge, but that are hinted at in our experiences. In reality, faith without reason, the natural intellect’s impetus toward curiosity, question and logic in pursuit of the truth about things, is meaningless.
Faith, then, is what drives human beings to search for answers, but it is also the natural recognition that there are things that are beyond us and that are greater than ourselves, in which we can put our trust.
It is also a kind of knowing that is sparked by the mind’s response to things like the beauty and order that exists in nature, and by the natural human capacity for wonder. Wonder, as Aristotle said is, “the beginning of all science and all philosophy.” I might add that it is the beginning of all theology as well. It is a pure gift from God to those who open themselves to that grace.
The object of faith, God, cannot be explained by science or mathematics, but faith causes the believer to act with certainty in specific ways just as surely as the concept of pi in mathematics makes an engineer build a bridge in accord with it. If the engineer does not pay attention to pi his efforts will be for naught. To defy what one knows in faith would be disastrous to the soul. To quote the great contemporary poet, Charles Wright, “We believe in belief but don’t believe, for which we shall be judged.”
Faith is, in some sense, a risk. It is a risk worthy of a human being as well. Let me use an analogy here that we can all understand. Faith is what we bring to the altar when we marry another. We believe, in that flush of our mutual love for each other, that our love will last forever, that it will grow and surpass even what it is on that day for us. That’s why we can look each other in the eye and vow to commit ourselves to each other for the rest of our lives. Anything less than that would make the marriage vows simply empty words. And empty words are not the soil out of which anything like love or trust can grow. There are no guarantees that we will succeed, except that we keep that faith in one another alive throughout our marriage.
The habits of mind and soul that we call faith can even endure the test of suffering and doubt. The great example of this is Job. The Liar negotiated with God for the chance to prove that even the best, the most holy and noble of humanity can be tempted away from their relationship with God. God allowed the Liar to take everything that the world counts as valuable, even priceless, away from Job, through disease and natural disasters, yet he, in his suffering, remained faithful. And because he remained faithful his reward was a hundred fold.
In Mark’s Gospel we see the story of a father who has come to Jesus to ask healing for his son. Jesus says to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” The father immediately cries out in tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” At this Jesus heals the man’s son. (Mark 9: 23-25)
This is our prayer too, isn’t it. We believe, yet we know our faith needs strengthening at times too. We can call out to Jesus in our tears, as this father did, and He will answer our prayer. He will respond to our little faith just as He did for this father in Mark’s Gospel. Thanks be to God.