The popular misconception is that faith is opposed to reason. And so we think that if our faith is to increase, our reason must take a break. We often mistakenly think that we must fully exercise faith in God without questioning because questioning shows our lack of faith in God’s spoken word and instructions.
So the basic premise with which we start is that the Bible is a book of faith, and must be approached solely by faith. This premise may lead to having many “spiritual” experiences, but I can assure you that your Christian life with not grow, and your faith will stagnate after a certain point of time. This sort of approach will eventually get stuck somewhere, because even though faith may seem to increase, you have left behind the very foundation of faith,—which is—increase in knowledge by making use of the faculty of your mind.
Faith, in and of itself will not survive. Like anything else, it needs a strong foundation in which to stand and grow. What is that foundation? The Bibles say it is knowledge, and more specifically, knowledge of God’s revealed Word, and his created world. Our problem is that we do not use reason enough to understand God’s revealed Word and his created world. Let us see some examples:
(1) Hebrews 11:3 says “By faith we understand.” Someone paraphrased this and said, “by faith we think.” The Bible is very clear that when our thinking goes in the right direction, our faith increases. But if we think that faith can increase by leaving reason behind, we are in serious trouble. Recently I heard someone talk about the “Naga way” of doing missions, where we simply go “by faith” without proper preparation like networking, creating a strong home base, and proper planning. We may experience a few miraculous deliverances here and there, but we will eventually end up in the wrong place, and even begin to lose faith because we think God has not been faithful enough in providing for our needs. We may even end up cursing God, but the real culprit is our lack of a proper reasoning process in planning.
(2) Jesus said in Matthew 6:28, “Consider the lilies of the field.” Jesus, in trying to build faith in his hearers, does not say “ just believe and have faith, and everything will be OK.” He says think about the lilies of the fields, and the birds; consider how they live life without a care, and yet God takes care of them. Think about them, and think about yourself. Jesus’ argument is simple: if lilies, then why not you who are worth much more. There is nothing spiritual about Jesus’ argument. But who can counter such an argument based on facts of the created order.
(3) Paul says (2 Corinthian 5:7), “we live by faith, not by sight”. Faith is contrasted to sight, not reason. The point is this: people lose faith not because they reason too much, but they lose faith because they see too many things they are not supposed to see, or they see it from the wrong premise. For example, we may look at the progress in the world where people get rich by unfair means, or we may see the suffering in the world and say God does not care one bit. Our sight has affected our faith. But when we think about the lilies and birds and use our reason to discover that we are worth much more than them, and connect them to God’s promises in the Bible, our faith is enriched. We find that it is not difficult to believe in a God who cares and who will restore all things eventually. Therefore, we can wait in faith, reasoning that God will never abandon his creation, even though what we see around us tells us otherwise. Hence, Paul’s assertion that we live by faith [strengthened by proper reasoning], not by sight [affected by emotions].
I hope now you see that ours is not a blind faith, but a faith firmly based on truth about God and how he relates to his creatures. Engagement with truth requires a fairly good thinking and reasoning power. In the following section, I will share some simple steps on how we can increase our intellectual power so that our faith will be unshaken.
(1) Solitude and Silence: I think the best way develop your mind is to shut up and shut out the world as often as possible and just engage in reading books, interacting with what you read in silence and solitude. You can also pray along as you read and interact with the book[s] asking God to give you understanding power and increased concentration. For some of us, this is what we often call “quiet time”. Of course, read the Bible and argue with it too, but do not forget to take it to the Lord in prayer.
The more often you do this, the easier it will become to deal with the noise and distractions around. Noise and distractions include everything from mobiles phones to a itching back or a noisy neighbour. But learning not to be distracted is an intellectual disciplines itself.
(2) Observation and Dialogue: Of source, solitude and silence is just one part of intellectual development. Other important disciplines will include observation of the world and trends around, and dialogue with the right kind of people. We may have a fairly good knowledge of the Bible, or any other subject matter, but it is in observation and dialogue that we actually learn proper application of knowledge. If we can learn to do this, we can attain a higher level of the intellectual discipline, —which is—of connecting of ideas, or connecting of truth with issues and problems around us. Then we are not just observing or dialoguing, but also discovering solutions.
(3) Calculative and Meditative Thinking (James W. Sire, “Habits of the Mind”): James Sire mentions two kinds of thinking: meditative thinking and calculative thinking. Calculative thinking is the kind of thinking we do which only connects us with our needs and wants and engages us in thinking about how materials and money can be acquired for our consumption. It is selfish and does not allow us to go beyond ourselves. In meditative thinking we connect with God the Creator and it helps us to see the whole of life from the eternal perspective. Someone said that today calculative thinking is the only way people are taught to think. How true. And how sad! We can learn the art of meditative thinking by connecting everything we hear and see around us with God and God’s plan as revealed in the Bible. This will require knowing the Bible and knowing the world, and connecting them, one giving more meaning to the other.