The dialogue continues between Hard Going and Simply Rational who wants to find out exactly what the essence of Hard Going‘s faith is and what exactly he means by faith.

Hard Going represents a Christian point of view while Simply Rational represents a humanist, and sometimes sceptical, interpretation.

Bramble bush, ice and wire fence ...
(Photo: Scott Murray)

What kind of Christian?
SR: You say you’re a Christian, but I want to get to what exactly you mean when you say you’re a Christian. I mean, a lot of people call themselves Christian, but it’s a blanket term. It could mean almost anything, just as if I say you’re Scottish. Yes, but what kind of Scot are you? There are a thousand possible answers.
HG: I agree entirely. There are all kinds of Scots, with all kinds of beliefs and allegiances, as there are many kinds of Christians. But I think what often distinguishes one Christian from another is what they believe about Jesus and the Bible, the kind of faith they have.

Faith and belief
SR: You’ve said two important words ‘believe’ and ‘faith.’ Could we clear that up first, what exactly is the difference for you between belief and faith? As David H. Glass points out in Atheism’s New Clothes, the New Atheists (Dawkins et al) think faith ‘is believing something without evidence.’ Is that what it is for you?

Believing that and believing in
HG: Certainly not. You’ve raised a whole number of questions here. I can’t answer them all at once. Let’s start with ‘belief.’ I’m glad you’ve read Glass’s devastating critique of the New Atheists. As Glass points out, and I agree with him, there are two kinds of belief, ‘believing that’ and ‘believing in.’ The first kind involves intellectual assent, the second involves trust as in trusting someone. Faith involves both belief and trust. For an atheist, of course, ‘new’ or otherwise, it’s all about belief. It would be a little difficult to trust in someone you believe isn’t there!
SR: Precisely. That’s me more or less in a nutshell. How can I trust in God if I’m not sure he exists?

Cow parsley with ice and fire
(Photo: Scott Murray)

The nature of trust
HG: Well, if you’ve read Glass’s book, you’ll know there is plenty evidence for believing in the existence of God. That, however, is merely the first step; believing that there is a God. The next step is believing in this God, which is equivalent to trust.
SR: Very well, what exactly is this trust and how does it come about?
HG: Because it’s a relationship between persons rather than mere intellectual assent, it will be different for each individual person. Once you believe there’s a God then the next step is to put your trust in Him.

The object of trust
SR: But is it not the same for all religions, Muslims trust in Allah, Buddhists trust in the dharma or teaching? All religions have something or someone they trust in.
HG: But what makes Christianity different to all other religions is the object of the trust, for every trust has its object, the focus of its attention. And the object of my trust is Jesus Christ, and Jesus wasn’t an ordinary person. In a very special sense he was God Himself. But he was God as revealed in history. God who acted in history.

(Photo: Scott Murray)

The contrast between Islam and Christianity
SR: But wait, doesn’t Islam believe the same, that Allah acted in history by speaking through the angel Gabriel to Muhammad and giving him the Qur’ an directly? For them the words of the Qur’ an are Allah’s own words. Jesus was only a prophet. For you he is the Son of God.
HG: Indeed, that is the stark contrast between the two religions. Let me tell you personally what I believe, my interpretation of what Christianity means if you like.
SR: Go ahead, I’d love to know. That’s what I asked you in the first place.

The importance of the cross
HG: Because of the stupendous gulf between God and human beings, caused by the alienation called sin in the Bible, God had to do something drastic. He had to effect a rescue operation. He came Himself into our time-bound world as a human being who we call Christ. Christ was both human and divine. That’s why he could say to Philip: ‘Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.’ (Jn:14.9) The true nature of God was revealed on the cross. A more unsavoury and humiliating death could not be imagined. God became sin for us. He suffered in our stead. The cross shows God’s love for human beings and at the same time his wrath against sin. But he took this wrath – this hatred of sin, Love’s aversion to sin – on Himself. There was God’s supreme ‘sign’ for the world. There was no more significant way in which He could have shown His love. Also, there was no other way we could have known the face – that is, the human side – of God.

A great story but …
SR: That all sounds splendid. It’s a great story, but how do you know there’s any truth in it? A follower of Islam will say it’s blasphemy to call a human being God. A humanist will say it’s just a tall story. A Buddhist will say there is no such thing as a personal deity. How do you answer them? How can you prove that there is any truth in what you’re saying?

Believing in
HG: Now there’s a thing, I’m supposed to prove this to you in a few sentences. There have been thousands, perhaps millions, of books written on this very subject and you ask me to prove it in the blink of an eye. But no, you ask the wrong thing anyway. You ask me to provide you with certain propositions to which you can give, or refuse to give, intellectual assent. But it’s not a case of believing that … but a case of believing in. In other words a case of trust. And trusting is experiential. It involves the whole person. It’s person to person.
SR: So believing in the cross is a private experience?
HG: No, not at all, although private experience comes into it. The two kinds of experience go together. I could say a few words, with regards to the cross, on the believing that … aspect of it …
SR: Go on then.

Total defeat to ardent missionaries
HG: They were Jews who first believed in Jesus, namely the apostles. It was a very strange thing for them to believe that there hanging on a cross was the saviour of the world. Why? Because for the Jew the cross was a symbol of being cursed. Why would God allow their messiah to be hung on a cross? It was unbelievable. They were totally defeated. Everything was over. It should have been the end of their dream. But wait, no it wasn’t. Shortly afterwards they became ardent missionaries of a new and strange Gospel – that the cross was actually a message of salvation.
SR: I think I know what you’re going to say …

The resurrection
HG: You probably do. The resurrection. Only the resurrection as described in the Gospels could have turned that demoralised crew from totally defeated to gloriously confident. All except one were to be martyred. Easy to believe they risked their lives if they really believed that they saw and spoke to the risen Lord. Difficult to believe all 11 would risk their lives for a lie. They had a strong faith, but faith backed by evidence.