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Monday, September 17, 2012

Credulity and Faith

The other morning before dawn I was on my way to work. Suddenly, in the eastern sky, only beginning to show signs of a rising sun, there was a glowing white spot. The spot stretched to a line over a matter of seconds. Then the end of this line that had been drawn in the sky turned in an impossible (for normal aircraft) arc, spread a little, and stopped. Over the next few minutes, the bright white diffused itself, catching rainbow colors from the still-over-the-horizon rising sun. It was amazing. It was beautiful. It was strange. And, of course, everyone knew it was aliens. That's what the news said. There were calls into network news and police departments reporting "strange lights" and UFOs. Turned out, of course, that it was a missile launch from White Sands, but, hey, easy mistake, right?

You know that when something is "incredible", it's hard (or impossible) to believe. And when you have a "credible witness", you have a witness who can be believed. Thus, "credulity" and "believe" must mean the same thing ... and thus "credulity" and "faith" are the same. Well, not quite. Let me explain.

The dictionary says that "credulity" is not synonymous with "faith", but rather a "willingness to believe or trust too readily, especially without proper or adequate evidence" followed by the simple synonym, "gullibility". "And," the skeptic will say, "that's faith." Not quite.

In the original biblical documents the Greek word for "faith" is pistis (or some form thereof). Vine's Expository Dictionary says it's "'firm persuasion,' a conviction based upon hearing". Strong's dictionary says it means "to be persuaded (by argument)". (The parenthetical part is Strong's, not mine.) Thus, biblical "faith" includes a component beyond mere credulity. Credulity requires no reason, no argument, no evidence. With credulity you simply believe. With faith you are persuaded for a reason, by arguments, with evidence.

Is it possible to have faith in something that is false? Well, of course it is. Is it possible to experience credulity (belief without any evidence) for something that is true? Again, that can certainly happen. The question is not about the truth of the matter at hand, but how you come to believe it. The callers to news and police that morning were operating on credulity. There was no evidence, no argument, no persuasion. There was just a lit trail in the sky that led them to an alien invasion ... that wasn't happening.

Let me give a biblical example of faith. Remember the Israelites in Egypt? When Moses showed up to save them, they made him leave. Forty years later, they weren't better disposed to his efforts at God's command. So, given this particular group of bedraggled, beaten, disbelieving folk, standing at the edge of the Red Sea with Pharaoh and his army behind them, what would coax them to walk into the path with walls of water on either side? Why did this group of hardcore skeptics walk into what would look like certain death? Well, what they had was a series of 10 plagues, 10 events in a row produced by Moses at God's command. The account indicates that the events affected Egyptians, not the Israelites. In the final event, God prepared His people with the blood on the door frame and the Passover meal and every firstborn died in Egypt except for those of the Israelites. In other words, Israel had evidence. Thus, it was not credulity that caused them to walk across the Red Sea on dry land. It was faith.

You see, credulity and faith share a common basis. They are both a belief in something that has no proof, no test to demonstrate the reality. For those things faith is not required. The difference, then, between credulity and faith is that faith demands reasons while credulity needs none. Faith is built on reasons, evidence, arguments, and then goes beyond them. Credulity is built on whatever you want to believe. They are, then, similar, but not the same.

There is another primary difference between credulity and biblical faith.
To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of His calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by His power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thess 1:11-12).
Faith says "This chair has always held my weight before, so without actually testing it, I can put my weight on it again" and does so. But Scripture says that God calls and God makes us worthy of that calling and God gives us resolve for good work and God gives us the faith that produces that good work. Now that is a real difference between credulity and faith.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Incredulity" is synonymous with "Lack of faith"