Faith and Rationality: Can they Co-exist?

Can faith and rationality co-exist? For most of my life, I believed – passionately – that they could. But life being what it is, I have come to view faith in God as not terribly rational. And yet, I just realized I was wrong. In the words of Ricky Ricardo, “give me a chance to ‘splain.

Hey, I’m a Believer

The Monkees All my life, I have been surrounded by people of faith, and all my life, I have struggled to believe the way they believe.

My mother is a woman of great faith. From my earliest years, her words and her actions demonstrated that she trusted God. I spent 17 years watching up close as she worked out her faith, and the 31 years since I left home seeing it from a distance. Her faith has been tested in life’s arena by failures, pain, loss and disappointment. Yet still she believes.

After I left home, I spent the early years of my adulthood being mentored by a man of great faith. Again I saw up close what it looked like when someone trusted God not with mere words but with their actions. His faith has been tested by financial failure, relational rejection, disappointment, loss and pain. Yet his faith in God is steadfast.

My partner is a woman of great faith. Her trust in God is intensely practical. She is not much one for showy religion, but her trust in God is unwavering.  Her faith has been tested by loss, disappointment, failure, homelessness, rejection and pain. Yet still she believes.

I have always wanted to have that sort of faith, yet it has always been a tremendous struggle for me. Where some people see “the Hand of God”, I see perfectly rational explanations that don’t require supernatural intervention. Where other people see Divine Providence, I see simple coincidence – coincidences that don’t involve God.

What a Fool Believes

As you will see from my other writing on this site and elsewhere, I am a passionate believer in God’s Grace; I am unable to avoid the fact that I seem bent toward self-delusion and self-destruction, as is every other human being I have ever known or learned about. Any system of redemption that depends on the work of man is – in my experience – doomed to failure. I am convinced that if man is to be reconciled to God, then God is going to have to do the work. Man simply isn’t up to the task.

But beyond that – beyond this work of “pure redemption” – I just do not see God involved in day-to-day life.  I see Him as the necessary component of the Big Picture, and yet I have struggled to find Him in the details. I believe I trust myself to Him beyond the point of death, but until then – not so much.

Does God really care so much about me that he knows how many hairs are on my head? Does He really care about each individual creature in His creation so much that not a sparrow falls to the ground without His knowledge? Jesus said He does. Yet I would say that the facts argue against it.

Don’t Stop  Believin’

Don't Stop Believin'Face it: if God really is All-Loving, All-Powerful and Personal, then the world as it presents itself to us would look different, wouldn’t it?

My attempts at faith keep getting stuck on this issue. I cannot reconcile the pain, suffering, loss, failure and sheer evil I observe in this world with the doctrine of God the All-Powerful, All-Loving and Personal. It’s not that I don’t want to believe – I do. But believing that way seems – in a word – irrational.

Stuck. Grounded. Trapped. Caught on the horns of a dilemma.

And then one day recently, I had a little mini-epiphany, or as my dear departed friend Ken Jessup would say, an “epiphanette”. All my life I had been drawing a distinction between faith and reason, as if Faith stood on one side and Reason stood on the other and from my place in the middle I had to choose one or the other. I thought that I had not been choosing Reason and rejecting Faith; I described myself as someone to whom faith was difficult. But I was wrong. I was not choosing Reason over Faith, as I thought. Rather, I was just choosing to place my faith in reason. My mother, my mentor and my partner choose to place their faith in God, I have been choosing to place it in Reason. It is not that I had no faith, it is instead that I chose a different target for my faith.

Suddenly, that put the struggle into a different arena. I used to view my mom, mentor and partner as people who had something I didn’t have – namely, faith in God. If they had something I did not, then that means that there was little I could do about it. But when I realized that I had faith too -it’s just that my faith was in Reason rather than God – then I realized that I could simply choose to trust God rather than Reason.

Now that may seem — unreasonable. But I don’t see it that way at all.

I know enough science and have experienced enough of the vicissitudes of life to know that rationality is not rational. As Hamlet told Horatio, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

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