Today: Thursday, November 21, 2019

Foundations of faith: the importance of reason    (11/4/2012 )

When someone says, “Use your loaf”, we don’t imagine that’s an instruction to do something with sliced bread! We’re expected to think.

The mind has an incredible ability to work things out.  We don’t exactly crack the Enigma Code every day, but even small children can work out how to solve puzzles, and we go on doing that throughout our lives.

In fact, we do it so naturally that we hardly notice we’re doing it at all.  Think about some Bible examples.  For instance, when Jesus said, “I am the door,” we don’t immediately picture a lump of wood with a handle. We realise he’s using words metaphorically — he’s talking about being the open doorway through which, through whom, we can come to meet God.

He did the same himself.  When he was tempted to throw himself off the roof of the temple — “because”, satan told him, “the angels will protect you,” he very quickly used his native wit, experience and intelligence to work out that that was not a good idea.

The capacity to think is one of God’s great gifts to humanity.  As Galileo said (roughly), I don’t think that the God who gave us sense, reason and intellect ever intended us not to use them.

And the great commandment, which Jesus echoed, was that we should worship God with heart, mind, soul and strength — meaning every single part of our being, including our brains.

There is a problem, though, and it has to do with the sometimes warped thinking we go in for.  Minds are not totally to be trusted.  We can think wrong things and come to wrong conclusions.  And that’s why in trying to understand how God wants us to live we need the combination of scripture, tradition, reason and experience — the four strands we’ve been talking about recently.  None of them on its own will do the job: we need the balancing, correcting influence of each strand.

Christians need to be thinkers, just as much as scientists — and neither needs to be afraid of searching after truth, though people of faith are on a bigger truth journey even than scientists because they don’t depend only on the gift of reason!

There was a debate in Geneva very recently between physicists, philosophers and theologians, exploring the issues raised by theories about the Big Bang and the apparent recent discovery of the Higgs Boson. John Lennox, professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford, is also a self-declared Christian. He commented that the very fact that human beings can do science is evidence for God.  "If the atheists are right, the mind that does science... is the end product of a mindless unguided process.  Now, if you knew your computer was the product of a mindless unguided process, you wouldn't trust it.  So, to me atheism undermines the rationality I need to do science."

Reason is just one of the ways God has given us to begin to understand his own rationality.  It can be a vital tool to bring us nearer to his mind.

Pray: God, thank you for the gift of reason, and that there is a mind at work behind the universe - vastly bigger than our minds, but wanting us to be in tune with you, thinking your thoughts and learning his sense.  God of all creation, I ask for the wisdom to bring my mind under yours, to think straight and to understand more of your amazing love and purpose for all things.

Think about: St Paul has a phrase about God’s ‘foolishness’ being wiser than human ‘wisdom’ (see 1 Corinthians 1:25).  What does that say about the limitations of the human mind, but also the place of reason and reasonableness?

Challenge: Think of a problem or question you are facing to which you do not know the answer, and ask yourself whether God might have a reason and might know the answer.

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