Living a Christian life involves being in an intimate and loving relationship with God while at the same time only “seeing him dimly now” (1 Corinthians 13:12). It embodies an emotional closeness while paradoxically involving a lack of sense perception. This paradox causes tension in our walk with a loving heavenly Father. However, with some thought to the words “believe” and “faith” as well as an examination of personhood, the paradox is not impenetrable.
Even in Greek the words “believe” and “faith” have closely related and nuanced meanings, often being used interchangeably. However, the context often renders the nuanced meaning distinguishable. The specific meanings we are interested in are belief and faith as a function of knowledge and belief and faith as a function of the heart. As a function of knowledge, belief and faith work as components of reason and truth. As a function of the heart, belief and faith work as components of trust in a person. In addition to these two scriptural meanings, faith is also used by scripture to convey the notion of a spiritual sense. As the physical senses are the agency through which we relate to this world and other people, faith is the agency through which we relate to God and the spiritual world.
BODIES VERSUS PERSONHOOD
Atheists believe we are fundamentally a cloud of atoms — nothing more. Few if any atheists live consistently with this notion. Further, most people seem to intuitively reject this notion. But how do we know this? How do I know my wife is more then the physical matter that her body is made of? How do I know I am relating to a personality that exists and has value beyond the physical?
The historicity of the resurrection is evidence. Many modern scholars who are experts in the historical case for the bodily resurrection of Christ conclude the historical evidence for the resurrection is extremely compelling. These scholars often remark as Dr. William Lane Craig does in this quote, “There are probably few events in the gospels for which the historical evidence is more compelling than for the resurrection of Jesus.” 1 Thus we have a compelling argument from factual evidence supporting the idea that we are more then our physical bodies.
But other, deeply personal lines of reason also support this intuition. If my wife is fundamentally a cloud of atoms, the inescapable conclusion is that the cloud of atoms that constitute her is no more or less valuable then the cloud of atoms that constitute the rocks in my driveway. Such a state is neither intellectually or emotionally satisfying. Intuition alone leads most people to reject such a notion. As C. S. Lewis said after the death of his beloved wife, “If H. ‘is not,’ then she never was. I mistook a cloud of atoms for a person. There aren't and never were, any people.” 2 Most people acknowledge that their need for personal value is real. They fear the nothingness that the atheistic view of death leads to.
It follows that the knowledge that we are more then our physical body is not gained primarily through our physical senses. Healthy human beings simply act consistently with the notion of an innate knowledge that we are real and valuable persons that exist as more than our bodies. Other lines of reason indicate that this knowledge is true.
PERSONHOOD, RELATIONSHIPS, AND SENSES
However, in our everyday lives we do not separate the person from the physical apparatuses involved in seeing, touching, and hearing them. Thus, in practice, we unwittingly infer the existence of persons because we see, touch, and hear them. It is this error of inferring persons from our physical senses that causes much of the tension in our relationship with God.
Dallas Willard said, “The biggest hindrance to faith is the overwhelming presence of the physical world.” 3 This is an eloquent way of stating that our slavish reliance to our physical senses is deceiving. By directly inferring personhood from the experience of relating to them through our physical senses, we skip the intuition that we know by our physical sense that physical bodies exist, but it is not by our physical senses that we know persons are more then their physical bodies. We miss the belief that a person exists as more than the physical stuff that makes them up is a function of intuitional knowledge. If we continue to infer personhood through our physical senses, belief in God will always be strained simply because our physical senses cannot perceive spirit and God. Belief that God exists is a function of intuitional knowledge — the same form of knowledge that informs us that people are more than their physical bodies.
Intuition is a form of knowledge. Good intuition engages reason and validates its knowledge. Intuition seems to predicate belief. Thus belief in this context is a function of reason. The belief that God exists is grounded in the reasoned intuition that there is design in the cosmos, that we react to beauty, that persons are of value, and many other aspects of creation that are best explained by the existence of God. This is the same process of reasoned intuition that leads to believing people are more than their physical bodies. It is the same form of knowledge Paul refers to in Romans 1:20.
If knowledge of personhood is not gained by the physical senses, what is their purpose where personhood and relating to other persons is concerned? Clarence Larkin had an incredible insight about the body and church when he said, “As the human body is for the manifestation of a personality, so the church, the ‘Body of Christ’ is for the purpose of manifesting ‘His Personality’ to the world.” 4 If the body is the vehicle through which our personality is manifested, it is the vehicle through which we relate to other persons. Specifically, the act of relating to other persons is achieved through the agency of our physical body's senses.
PENETRATING THE PARADOX
I experience times of worshiping in which my mind seeks for an image — something to which to direct my worship. Apparently Jesus' disciples, at least Philip, experienced the same problem.
Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus replied, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and yet you still don't know who I am? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father! So why are you asking me to show him to you?” (John 14:8 – 9, NLT).
I recall Paul’s words in Colossians 1:15, “He is the image of the invisible God, ... .” What did Paul want the Colossian Christians to understand by such a comment? Had any of the Colossians personally met Jesus? Paul was, of course, referring to knowing Jesus though his life, teachings, death, and resurrection. Peter is more direct about trusting Christ without seeing him in 1 Peter 1:8, “You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy.” Jesus' words echo through both Paul's and Peter's teaching.
But Paul also said in 1 Corinthians 13:12 (NLT), “Now we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror ... .“
A color-blind person surely knows the beauty of a flower or a sunset shooting rays of light that dance on the clouds. We try to convey the brilliance and glory that the world of color adds to beauty by way of analogy and metaphor. But we find that sharing the sensation of experiencing color for one's self is simply beyond our ability. For now, we know God imperfectly as, I imagine, a person who is color blind knows beauty and color. Yet, surely the color blind person does know beauty. We know God is good. He is love, beauty, justice, and mercy. Sometimes we know him through his touch on our very person through a form of relating that circumvents our physical senses. These times may be only vaguely understood and describable but they are nonetheless real and vibrant. Believing this is the act of relating to God through the “sense” of faith. With time we come to see that our relationship with God is known to us in the same way as any of our relationships are known. Just as we believe from reasoned intuition that persons exist as more then their physical bodies, we believe God exists from reasoned intuition that he is the answer for the creation we observe. Just as we recognize relationships with other persons through the personally-felt mental and emotional touch they cause on our persons, we recognize our relationship with God through the same felt emotional experiences, impressions, and intuitions any relationship causes on our person; even though he acts upon our person directly.
Paul also said, We walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). Faith is the “sense” we employ to see, hear, and touch God. The prevailing worldview presents us with a false dichotomy. It asks which is easier to believe in — this world that we see, touch, and hear or the spiritual world that we simply must believe is real. God beckons us to reject this false either/or view and see both worlds in unity — a unity that confirms our natural sense that the world I see, touch, and hear is not a complete world. There is more to it. This world is complete only with the spiritual world undergirding and permeating everything associated with it. In adopting this mind-set, we begin to trust our spiritual “sense” more than our physical sense of sight.
Intimacy with God is found when we understand “faith” is also “trust in a person.” I have faith in the person of my wife. I believe and trust her for the promises she made to me. Intimacy with God is gained in the same way, by having trust in the person of God.
In the Bible we find the word “faith” used to convey both the notion of a sense and the notion of trust in the person of God. By understanding the meanings of faith, and understanding belief (for the context of this article) as a function of reason we can have intimacy with God while we learn to see him clearly.
1. William Lane Craig, “The Bodily Resurrection of Jesus: Compelling Evidence,” powertochange.com/discover/faith/jesusresurrection1/.
2. C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed. New York: HarperCollins, 1996.
3. Dallas Willard, Hearing God, page 217.
4. Clarence Larkin, Dispensational Truth, page 46.
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