Last week, I began this series of blogs concerning the interplay between doubt & faith. Can the two co-exist? Are they antithetical to each other? This week I’ll be introducing a book we’ll use to spur some thoughts on the subject.
Gregory Boyd, in his recent book Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty, has a lot to say about faith and doubt. In the introduction , Boyd points out that for a lot of Christian people, faith is seen as our level of certainty regarding what we believe. And for many of us, a lot is riding on our level of certainty. God’s response to our prayers, how blessed our life is, and even our very salvation can all be tied to the certainty of what we believe. For example, if we pray for someone to be healed and they aren’t, what does that mean about our faith? Does it mean that we didn’t feel certain enough that God would really answer our prayer? If only we had greater faith (faith = more certainty), then God would have given what we asked for. Right?
Boyd challenges this idea that subjective psychological certainty is equivalent to biblical faith. If feeling certain is equivalent to faith, then doubt is an enemy. But Boyd doesn’t believe this is the best understanding of faith. He believes biblical faith is best understood “covenantally”. That is, faith is not so much a mental state, but a relationship with repercussions for how one lives. However, he won’t get into exactly what that means until the second half of the book. For now, Boyd wants to critique what he calls certainty-seeking faith, and he’ll spend the introduction and first three chapters doing just that. In chapters 1-3 he lays out 9 objections to this perspective on faith. But before we get there, let me share one analogy and one story from Benefit of the Doubt. I’d love to hear your perspective on both.
First, imagine you’re at the fair and you find the “strength-tester” game (pgs. 26-27 in BotD). This is the one where you take a big sledge hammer and the harder you hit the mallet the further up the scale your puck or ball will go. Now imagine that the scale was our certainty about what we believe, and the strength of our hit was the amount of faith/certainty we could muster. In this picture, the man who told Jesus “I do believe, please help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24) was basically saying, “Lord, I can only hit the faith puck a little way up the faith pole, but please help me to ring the certainty bell” (pg. 26).
Boyd imagines that if one can hit the faith puck 25% up the faith pole, that might qualify for enough faith to be saved. At 50% up the pole, you’re starting to get somewhat of a blessed life (yes, he gets a little tongue-in-cheek here!). At 75%, you’re really starting to be really blessed and you’ll experience some pretty amazing, Jesus-type miracles. If one were to reach 100% certainty, then you’d qualify for the extreme promises of Jesus, such as, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Matthew 21:22).
Despite the tongue-in-cheek nature of the analogy, have you felt like faith seemed this way in your life? Have you wondered if things would go much better for you, or that more of your prayers would be answered, if only you had more faith? And by that, did you mean that you felt more certain about how much you believed?
That was the analogy; here’s the story. Boyd once went with a group of believers to pray for someone with cancer. As they prayed he found that he was attempting to convince himself that the person would actually be healed. He knew believers had died of cancer before, and that others had prayed for them. How could he be certain that this group’s prayers would be answered in the affirmative? A picture then popped into his head from The Wizard of Oz. It was the scene when the cowardly lion has his eyes shut and keeps repeating, “I do believe, I do, I do, I do!” This was the moment when Boyd began to doubt the “certainty-seeking” model of faith.
How does that story make you feel? Can you identify? I can. And it makes me feel uncomfortable. When I hear Jesus rebuke the disciples for their lack of faith, what else could he be talking about other than the level of their certainty? What about faith in Hebrews 11:1 – “certain of what we hope for”? This makes me very curious to delve into Boyd’s study on biblical faith later in the book. But I also see his point about the audacity of thinking that God’s response to my faith is based on my subjective psychological status. Why would my ability to convince myself of something move God to respond one way or another? Is that ability (to convince myself) a virtue? If so, why?
[In case you’re wondering, Boyd is not saying that we don’t need faith, or even that faith cannot grow. He’s saying that if faith is how certain I feel at any given moment, that is problematic.]
We’ll explore this further in my third post about Boyd’s 9 objections to certainty-seeking faith. For now, what’s your response to his analogy and story about certainty-seeking faith?