Faith is Not Wishing
The record is clear from the Old Testament to the Gospels, from the very beginnings of the early church to the epistles of the apostles: Biblical faith isn’t wishing; it’s confidence. It’s not denying reality, but discovering reality. It’s a sense of certainty grounded in evidence that Christianity is true—not just “true for me,” but actually, fully, and completely true.
I don’t like the word “faith.”
It’s not that faith isn’t valuable. True biblical faith is essential for salvation. But faith is often deeply misunderstood in a way that hurts Christianity and harms Christians.
Some think that having a level of certainty about the truth of Christianity makes “belief” unnecessary or irrelevant. That kind of knowledge undermines genuine faith and offends God.
The reasoning goes something like this. We all know God wants us to have faith. In fact, without faith, it’s impossible to please him (Hebrews 11:6). However, gathering evidence for God and Christianity leaves little room for faith. After all, how can one have faith in something he knows is true? Faith, then, is opposed to knowledge. Therefore, apologetics undermines the faith project and thus displeases the Lord.
On this view, faith is believing the unbelievable, clinging to your convictions when all the evidence is against you. Faith is a “leap,” a blind, desperate lunge in the darkness. When doubts or troubles beset us, we’re told to “just have faith,” as if we could squeeze out spiritual hope by intense acts of sheer will.
This view of faith reduces Christian conviction to religious wishful thinking. We can hope, but we can never know.
But this will never work. Someone once said, “The heart cannot believe that which the mind rejects.” If you are not confident the message of Scripture is actually true, you can’t believe it even if you tried.
The “I just take Christianity on (blind) faith” attitude can’t be the right approach. It leaves the Bible without defense, yet Peter directs us to make a defense for the hope that is in us.
Also, the biblical word for faith, pistis, doesn’t mean wishing. It means active trust. And trust cannot be conjured up or manufactured. It must be earned. You can’t exercise the kind of faith the Bible has in mind unless you’re reasonably sure that some particular things are true.
In fact, I suggest you completely ban the phrase “leap of faith” from your vocabulary. Biblical faith is based on knowledge, not wishing or blind leaps. Knowledge builds confidence, and confidence leads to trust. The kind of faith God is interested in is not wishing. It’s trust based on knowing, a sure confidence grounded in evidence.
The following biblical examples make my point.
Blood, Boils, Frogs, and Flies
Israel’s exodus from Egypt was depicted in a clever animated film called The Prince of Egypt. After seeing the movie, my wife and I spent time reading the original account in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Though I’d read this passage a number of times, something jumped out at me then that I hadn’t seen before, a phrase God kept repeating over and over in the account.
The material relevant to my point starts in Exodus 3. Reading the encounter with God at the burning bush, we realize Moses is reluctant to be God’s deliverer. And it’s understandable. Why would Pharaoh, the most powerful leader in the world, submit to a renegade Jew? Why would two million Hebrew slaves follow a murderer and a defector?
“What if they won’t believe me or listen to me?” Moses demurred. “What if they say, ‘The Lord hasn’t appeared to you’?”
What God didn’t say in response is as important as what he did say. He didn’t say, “Tell Pharaoh he’s just going to have to take this on blind faith. Tell the Hebrews the same thing. They’ve got to have faith.”
Instead, God asked, “What’s that in your hand?”
“A staff,” Moses answered.
“Throw it on the ground.”
So he threw it down, and it became a serpent.
“Stretch out your hand,” the Lord said. “Grab it by the tail.”
Reluctantly, Moses did as he was told. When he grabbed the snake, it became a staff again.
“Do this,” God said, “and then they’ll believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers, has appeared to you.”
More signs followed that got the people’s attention: the river of blood; frogs covering the land; the gnats, flies, and locusts; the boils and pestilence; the hail; the darkness; and finally, the angel of death. All for one purpose: “That they might know there is a God in Israel.” Not simply “believe,” “hope,” or “wish.” Know. This is no idle comment, but a message that is central to the account. In fact, the phrase is repeated no less than ten times throughout the account.
What was the result? “And when Israel saw the great power which the Lord had used against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in His servant Moses” (Exodus 14:31).
Note the pattern: a powerful evidence (miracles, in this case), giving the people knowledge of God, in whom they then placed their active trust (faith).