Have you ever felt the pressure to choose between faith and reason? I can relate.
When I was a kid, I believed what I heard in church without hesitation. Sunday School Bible stories? Of course they were true. Prayers for healing and other miracles? Of course God would come through the way I hoped. I had no reason to doubt.
But as I got into my pre-teen and teenage years, things changed. Those Bible stories started to look more and more unbelievable. Did Noah really put two of every animal on a giant boat? Did Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego really survive a fiery furnace? Could I trust a collection of books and letters that had been written thousands of years ago?
And what about those prayers I kept hearing? People would plead with God for their health, their relationships, their finances, for weeks and months and years. And often, those people wouldn’t get the answers they were hoping for. Was God real, was He listening? Did He care?
I started asking God for proof. Not anything big. Just something—anything—I could use as an anchor when doubts came my way. But this prayer wasn’t answered either, and my belief continued to waver. I didn’t want to abandon the faith I’d grown up in, but I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to move forward.
Reason, meanwhile, seemed like the reliable constant in my life. It was simple and accessible and could answer so many questions in ways that made sense. Why is the sky blue? There’s an answer for that. Why do we have seasons? There’s an answer for that, too. Occasionally, in the back of my mind, something would whisper: You know, all of this would be a lot easier if you just let faith go, already.
All of this came to a head at a youth retreat I attended when I was 17. I was surrounded by thousands of other high school students who seemed sold on their faith. And there I was, wondering whether I believed at all. I considered leaving my faith during that retreat. Instead, I told God: I don’t know how to do this. If I’m going to have faith, you need to help me.
I wish I could say there was a switch I flipped that suddenly made faith easy for me again. But that wasn’t how it worked. It’s been a slow process of examining Christianity and working out what I can accept and what I’m still having difficulty with. But here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re feeling the pressure to choose between faith and reason:
1. The Bible says God provides us with faith and reason.
Depending on your background, you might have grown up hearing that you need to rely on faith or reason. But God provides us with both. Regarding reason, the Bible is full of verses like this one:
For the Lord gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding. Proverbs 2:6
Wisdom, knowledge, understanding, reason: These are all good things, made by God and bestowed on us as gifts. And God desires for us to use the gifts He’s given us.
But what about faith? It’s sometimes easy to feel as if we’re responsible for the strength of our faith. And while we can certainly do things to impede our ability to trust God, ultimately, it is God who gives us faith:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9
If we could strengthen our faith, that would put it under the umbrella of works: things we could boast in. But that’s not what faith is. Faith is God-given. However much faith we’ve been given, God calls us to put it to good use, just as He does with reason.
2. Faith and reason might just be better together.
While reason is capable of answering so many questions, at the end of the day, it can’t answer all of them. Reason can only tell us so much when we ask questions like: “Why are we here?” “What’s my purpose?” and “What happens after we die?” But it’s those questions that faith helps us answer. And when we use faith and reason together, we stand the best chance of finding truth.
It’s like this: I like putting broken things together. And I’m not talking figuratively. My friends and family all know that, if they break a cup or a bowl or … anything, honestly, I will be giddy if they ask me to put it back together. The process of finding the pieces that fit is slow and methodical. There’s a lot of putting two pieces side-by-side and sliding them against one another, looking for that perfect place where they just fit. By the time I finish, I might still missing a piece or two, but the shape of the original cup or bowl is undeniable.
At this point in my life, that’s a lot like how I approach faith and reason. I use the two to process the world around me and help me understand it better. And when I compare the two, slowly and methodically, and look for places where they fit together, that gives me more confidence in the conclusions they help me find (even if those conclusions are incomplete, and still missing a piece or two).
3. When faith and reason lead you somewhere, take note. (Literally.)
A while ago, I took a class about women and church history. We spent a lot of time looking at the ways Jesus treated the women around Him during His time on earth. As I learned, I understood more and more just how countercultural Jesus’ behavior was. Because of the time and the place in which He lived, it would have been essentially impossible for Jesus to esteem and respect women to the extent that He did, had He just been an ordinary man. His treatment of women increased my confidence that He was who He claimed to be: the Son of God.
That’s one way in which faith and reason worked together to help me believe. I wrote that epiphany down. And since then, in times of doubt, I’ve returned to that knowledge repeatedly.
When you make some discovery that your faith and reason agree upon, do whatever it takes not to forget it. Write it down somewhere. Record yourself saying it. Put it into art. These things are important, regardless of whether they seem large or small to us at the time. Each discovery will not only make you more at ease with relying on both faith and reason, but give you confidence in the God who made them both.