Tuesday, May 01, 2007


Have you ever thought about the difference between “I believe” and “I know?”

Many today prefer “I know” to “I believe.” They want to know beyond a doubt that something is “true” and they will discount any opinion that may not be able to be “proven” to their satisfaction.

But faith isn’t like that. Faith says “I believe,” and its belief isn’t dependent on empirical proof. Faith doesn’t require proof; it requires love and trust. It is like a father asking a son to jump into his arms. At that moment the son decides what he believes about his father. Will my father catch me or let me fall? If there is love and trust, the son jumps.

That’s why so many arguments about the truthfulness of the Christian faith leave me a little hollow. It seems many even within the Christian community have accepted the notion that “I know” is more powerful than “I believe.” Books have been written about how this fact proves Christianity and that fact proves Christianity. They even offer some “evidence that demands a verdict” to show beyond a doubt that Christ rose from the dead. Right now there is a team of explorers planning another trip to Mt. Ararat in Turkey to “find” Noah’s Ark. And these so-called proofs of the faith simply create more opportunities for folks to disagree over the interpretation of these same “facts.”

Do I discount the importance of this evidence? No, not at all. But while it is encouraging to see these facts brought to light, even if this “evidence” didn’t exist, I would still believe. I believe because I love and know God. In fact, much to the chagrin of many modern day “thinkers,” the ancient path to understanding and true knowledge is to believe so that I might understand.

I know this attitude toward belief and faith frustrates some who feel more comfortable with indisputable facts, but how many truly indisputable facts do you really know?

The truth is that all of us “look through a glass darkly” and much of the things we think we know are really strongly held beliefs. That’s OK. It doesn’t diminish the truth or power of those beliefs at all. It is only when we believers capitulate to the spirit of the age – “unless I can see it I won’t believe it” – that we give up the most powerful proof of all, our faith.

It was in the arena where the martyrs for our faith proved to the world that what they believed was more important than their own comfort and safety – that their hope of eternity took priority over the beasts they could see and feel.

What is our belief based on? What is the foundation of our belief?

Is it the Scriptures, perhaps? Maybe, but what about the myriad of interpretations about the meaning of the Scriptures? Is it tradition? That would be fine, but which tradition?

No, our faith is based not on ideas, like the other world religions, but on a Person Who said “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life…” Our faith is centered on and focused on Jesus Christ, the Author and Finisher of our faith.

That’s why the Creed we recite each week at Liturgy is called “The Symbol of Faith.” The Creed accurately reflects the Face of Jesus Christ back to us. The Creed (the word itself means “I believe”) is the embodiment of what we hold to be true and what we declare as the foundation of our lives and our actions. This Creed helps us make visible what we believe about Jesus Christ and His Church.

"I believe" is actually more powerful than "I know..."


Anonymous said...

A friend of mine lent me this way of thinking about it (this helped me a great deal, don't want to take credit if it helps someone else): applying science to history, in order to /prove/ something, is simply wrong. We cannot prove the existence of a creator (cannot "know" it) because science is concerned with repeatable, testable phenomena. Things that science can observe or recreate can be proved, so they can be known.

Historical events are judged/ studied by an entirely different standard and all sources reporting historical events are individually judged for reliability or credibility. So, science reports from a lab and history reports from a person or a group. When we look to science, we look for findings which were reached after much testing. When we look to history, we aren't so much looking for findings as we are a kind of consensus or volume of first-hand reports. It is as if we test them ourselves. Autobiographies aren't as reliable as heavily-researched biographies, for example.

An adamant skeptic of Christianity has to assert the knowledge that the gospel writers are /not/ credible witnesses. So if they /know/ the gospels are false, you just can't argue. "Believe" means nothing in this instance when "know" is the gauntlet thrown against history. If historical knowledge can be had through a lacking of scientific evidence (as if to say "because there's nothing proved, it must be wrong or doesn't exist" even though you cannot reliably test things which do not repeat), we've got a major problem.

To an extreme, I can't know my parents are married (wasn't there, photos could have been staged, whatever) or that the house across the street isn't a mere facade (I've never been inside.) Epistemic exercises are eventually maddening, but there is much we rely on which we do not test. We really can only know our own states of pain or emotion (in this philosophical extreme) and these are exactly the things we cannot prove. If you tell me you're hungry, I simply rely on your word. It's also taken as the truth when I tell my doctor my hand is tingly.

I posit that belief takes "know" to another level because belief insinuates a kind of action on knowledge, which alone doesn't always provoke a person to act. If someone comes to know God, the belief system is built around that. Not before. So in this way, "I believe" is certainly more powerful than "I know." It is a furtherance of knowing instead of mere reliance on evidence.

David Bryan said...

I've just tagged you with a "Saints Meme." If you like, post on who your four favorite saints are, who your favorite "blessed" saint is, and/or who you'd like to see glorified as a saint one day. My response is here; please post a commment there if you chose to respond to the meme on your blog. Thanks!

Steve said...

Thank you for this thorough description. I've been in church services where the speaker describes "knowing" as stronger than "believing". Your description and the first reply from anonymous make sense to me. Thanks. Steve