Are you ever asked what you believe and why? Do you ask yourself? This is the first in a series of posts examining the nature of belief across different faith traditions and why it matters. Most of what we believe is based on evidence. Belief that the sun will rise tomorrow is based on the evidence of experience. Belief that a friend will keep her word might be based on the evidence of experience with the friend specifically or with people in general. If I think of faith as belief without evidence, I could say I have faith that my friend will keep her word despite evidence to the contrary. Furthermore, we all believe some things we can’t prove.
Some people come to belief in God through a dramatic or miraculous experience. I once worked with a man who described being an agnostic and hopeless drug addict for many years before Jesus appeared to him and cured his addiction in a single encounter. It was a memorable testimony of healing and life change. Many people, especially young people struggling with their faith, yearn for a dramatic sign. They want decisive evidence on which to predicate belief in God. Some get it. Most of us don’t.
Most of us come to belief in God through a process akin to the scientific method. The body of modern scientific knowledge has been built using a method of assuming hypotheses, testing them, gathering evidence and concluding whether the evidence supports the hypotheses. If contrary or inconsistent evidence is observed, then a hypothesis needs adjustment. We can find God this way, too.
If a leap of faith isn’t within reach, we can formulate a hypothesis and make observations. Someone beginning to explore spirituality might assume God exists and is good. Someone with a robust spiritual life already might focus on a question of faith burning inside her at present. For example, I might assume God has laid down an abundance of grace that is enough to heal me completely and for all time if only I reach out and lay a hand upon it. Or you might assume that there is meaning in suffering and although it pains God, who is infinitely vulnerable to us, he uses all the loose and frayed ends in our lives even when the meaning of our suffering lies beyond our human ability to perceive or to comprehend. We can treat this hypothesis as a tentative or provisional belief. As we live life, we will observe evidence that supports or contradicts the assumption.
When something in life trips us up, as is inevitable for us all, we can examine our choices and actions within the framework of this belief. Do the actions and reactions make sense? Can we understand the forces at work? If it doesn’t add up, we have an opportunity to reevaluate what we believe in light of new evidence. On the other hand, in the absence of inconsistencies or contrary evidence, we might get comfortable with the hypothesis and assume yet another building on it. Here, our state of belief might be partially evidence-based (a long run of experience that supports belief) and partially faith-based (we may desire more evidence). Don’t conceptualize God’s nature based on what you want to be true. Rather, develop your powers of observation. If you seek spiritual growth, give God your provisional trust and give the experiment time to yield evidence.
Join the conversation. What do you believe that you can’t prove?
Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.