Reasoned and Reasonable Faith

“The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.” (Chesterton, Orthodoxy 34)

In the effort to end the slave trade in Great Britain, William Wilberforce and his allies “looked to the heavens” for help because in the late 1700s and early 1800s, “science was not as advanced as it is today.” That’s what I read in a student paper once.

This student saw faith in God as outdated. He resided within the realm of reason and excluded the possibility of a non-material world having found faith in the “heavens” unreasonable.

What he missed was how Wilberforce, outside the context of his Christian faith, could have come up with the idea that slavery and many other ills of his time were evil. 

The notion that slavery, or any other social woe, could end through a secular perspective is a much more unreasonable idea than searching the “heavens” for moral leading. The theme of faith as unreasoned is not new, but it is now a dominant voice instead of being a secondary one as it was years ago.

In 1962, William E. Barrett published The Lilies of the Field, a novella about Homer Smith, a nomad Baptist handyman who builds a chapel for a group of Catholic Eastern European nuns in the barrenness of the southwestern U.S. after World War II.
The chapel becomes Homer Smith’s life dream, what he believes will be his legacy. But the task seems so big. The needs loom so large.

The book captivated my adolescent mind. At the time, most Americans overwhelmingly found Christianity a perfectly reasonable place to put their faith. Yet faithless reason had gained a foothold.

Barrett included a character who, aligning himself with the modern student/author would say, “Faith. It is a word for what is unreasonable. If a man believes in an unreasonable thing, that is faith” (96).

This man, so sure of himself, is a foil to Homer who has his doubts. At one point, Homer leaves the nuns and the community, some who also doubt the church building can become reality.

But once Homer has left his dream, the dream does not leave Homer. The vision of the nuns and the unfinished chapel calls him back.

When he returns, the community surprises him with donations of bricks, the literal building blocks of his dream. Everyone in the community contributes, that is, except, at first, the “reasonable” man without faith. Clinging to faithless reason, that man arrives one day to see Homer’s project.

Homer’s reaction: “This man probably did not believe in bricks. It was not reasonable that all of these bricks were here, so they were not” (99).

Faith is a step beyond reason. The Church is real. Over the centuries, God has built His Church. But God does not build with bricks man has made. He builds with stones He has formed.

“You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (I Peter: 2:5).

What then should we make of our understanding of science? Let’s begin with the scientific method.

Franciscan monk developed it. Our modern concept of seeking to understand the world came from people who were seeking to better understand the works of the Creator God.

According to Pew, today scientists are less likely to believe in God than the rest of society. Given the pervasive teaching that science trumps faith, that is no surprise.

Even so, more than half of all scientists do believe in God or at least some higher power. That more than half believe there is more to the universe than what we can see is surprising.

Those scientists realize that faith is not devoid of reason. Reason without faith makes man a god, an idea that has led us to genocide and licentiousness.

Yet, the question of faith cannot be one of numbers. It is not more reasonable to have faith because many others don’t believe. A majority is capable of being misled.

C.S. Lewis understood that there was no war between faith and reason. “The battle is between faith and reason on one side and emotion and imagination on the other” (139).

Wilberforce and those standing with him in faith knew it too. It was their faith and their reason, their looking to the heavens, that so changed the world.

This year I watched as Barrett’s book captivated a group of seventh and eighth-graders. I plan to introduce the book soon to another group of students.

The light of reasoned faith still finds hearts and minds to illuminate–young hearts and minds whose faith is working through reason.

We are living in days of darkness and division. But there is light in childlike faith.

Photo Credit: Unsplash

Nancy E. Head’s Restoring the Shattered is out in paperback! Get your copy here!

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22 Replies to “Reasoned and Reasonable Faith”

  1. Nancy, wow! I always learn so much from your blogs. God bless you for all the awareness you bring and light you shine!

  2. Love this:
    C.S. Lewis understood that there was no war between faith and reason. “The battle is between faith and reason on one side and emotion and imagination on the other.”

  3. This is such an insightful post. I happen to live in my faith and love science. I believe science gives us a greater understanding of God rather than dismissing Him. Thank you for this historical reminder.

  4. This is a very deep subject and you covered it very well. Reason and faith can and do work together. Along the same line, science and faith can also exist together. We do not give up our brain when we follow Jesus. Thanks Nancy.

  5. Well said author! Why has the scientific community spent BILLIONS of dollars looking for the “God particle” if no such being/deity/God exists?

    1. Perhaps some of them want a particle to point to instead of a God they’re really not looking for and not hoping to find. Thanks, J.D. Happy Thanksgiving, and God bless!

  6. I love your last line, “There is light in childlike faith.” Because that is what God calls us to. Childlike faith, to take his hand as a child does to a parent with the belief they are taken care of. Enlightening post and I’m sure your sharing with the middle school age will be an asset to their ability to think.

  7. “Faith is a step beyond reason.” I agree, Nancy. Thank you for sharing Barrett’s book with your students. Our young people are the future of our country and our freedom to practice our faith. I fear many of our young people are not even having an opportunity, in our increasingly secular culture, to learn about Jesus and know that they have the opportunity to grow and develop a faithful relationship with our Lord. We all have a part to play in participating in developing the faith of the next generations.

  8. Such a good message, Nancy. I love the thought of faith working THROUGH reason…not separating the two. Glad you introduced this book to your class! What a great age to learn these truths.

  9. Nancy, may God bless you and use you to reach young minds with the truth. God has abundantly “proven” Himself in the design, beauty, interdependence, complexity and repeating patterns of the universe. One look at the intricate seeds patterns on the sunflower and the DNA strands of all life, should rightfully leave speechless, everyone who is reasoning well. Praying for more to have eyes to see. Have you ever seen David Wood’s video “Why I am a Christian”? If not, it is well worth your time. He is a brilliant mind, once an atheist, now a Christian.

  10. Interesting story and perfect illustration, Nancy. I hope your students trust more and more in the true God of the universe and science. It is so much more reasonable to believe in a Designer than to reason that things just are without Him.

  11. Faith working through reason is exactly what God expects of us. He says, “Come let us reason together.” I am thankful He does not expect us to be blindly led along. Thank you for a great post.

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