Previously, in parts 1 and 2 of this series, we’ve examined Exodus 3-14 and Acts 16 in order to better understand how the Bible defines faith. Today we turn to the gospel of Mark to see how Jesus’ teaching reinforces the idea of faith as active trust based on knowledge and evidence.
A Lame Man Walks:
Our final example is found in Mark 2:1-12, where we observe Jesus establishing the same model of faith that is evident in Exodus and Acts. In this passage, Jesus had recently returned to the seaside village of Capernaum after ministering throughout Galilee. Before long he was preaching to an overflowing room of curious listeners. During his teaching, a paralysed man, being carried on a mat, was bought to see him. Regrettably, there was no way for the cripple to gain access due to the number of people surrounding Jesus. This didn’t dishearten those carrying him, however, and they soon climbed onto the roof, created an opening, and lowered the paralytic down. When Jesus observed their faith, he spoke to the crippled man: “Son, your sins are forgiven”. Several Jewish scribes were present, and they questioned Jesus in their minds, thinking him blasphemous. Since God alone has the right to forgive sins, the scribes were understandably aghast at Jesus’ claim. Knowing their thoughts, Jesus addressed them: “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’, or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?”. Jesus was aware that by forgiving the paralytic’s sins he was making an unfalsifiable claim. Who’s to say he couldn’t forgive sins? How could anyone present possibly prove him wrong? On the other hand, healing a man meant acting in the physical realm where the witnesses could verify his claim—or know him to be a liar if he failed. Jesus continued: “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—and he turned to the paralytic, commanding him to pick up his mat and walk. Immediately the man stood up and walked.
Jesus’ response to the scribes is deeply significant in what it teaches about faith. He knew that no one could disprove his ability to forgive sins, but he didn’t tell the audience to simply “take it on faith”. He didn’t respond, “Look, you just have to believe”. Instead, he demonstrated his power in the physical realm by healing the paralytic, thereby lending credence to his claim to authority in the spiritual realm. Because of the evidence of his authority in the physical world, those present knew he also held authority over spiritual matters, and were able to place their trust in him. Once again, it is evident that knowledge, evidence and reason are integral to biblical faith, and are not contrary to it.
In summary, we’ve seen that Exodus 3-14, Acts 16, and Mark 2 do not describe blind belief but are instances of active trust based on evidence and knowledge. When God asked Moses to lead the Israelites from captivity in Egypt, He gave Moses the power to perform miraculous signs in order to demonstrate that He was truly at work. In the New Testament, the Philippian jailer’s conversion took place against the backdrop of the apostolic witness in Philippi and the miraculous occurrences of the evening. With these in place as evidence, the jailer had good reason to believe what Paul and Silas told with him, and thus to place his faith in Jesus. Finally, Jesus’ own behaviour towards the lame man, the scribes, and the onlookers in Mark 2 implies a model of faith that incorporates and includes knowledge and reason. These are but three examples of scripture affirming the compatibility of faith and reason, and I’d encourage you to examine other passages to see for yourself whether they also demonstrate this model of faith. With this in mind, it seems that we can agree at least in part with A. C. Grayling’s polemic as quoted in part 1. Although as bible-believing Christians we should reject Grayling’s definition of faith, we can agree that people who subscribe to such “faith” and affirm the truth of a belief against all reason are somewhat ignorant and irresponsible. As C. S. Lewis puts it: “if… [a sane man] thought the evidence bad but tried to force himself to believe in spite of it, that would be merely stupid”[i]. Fortunately, Christianity requires no such faith.
[i] Lewis, C. S. (2001). Mere Christianity, p. 138. New York: HarperCollins.