Hope in the Rationality of Faith
Is it possible for faith to be its own evidence? Hebrews 11:1 defines faith in just this way and claims to offer hope as a result: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Many might suggest that faith is irrational and that to put hope in the claims of faith is delusional. But is this really true?
If this verse was rewritten in long hand with all of its definitions, it might sound like this: “Now faith (a persuasion, credence, conviction, or truth) is the substance (concretely/essence; abstractly/assurance) of things hoped (with confident expectation) for, the evidence (available body of information that indicates whether a belief is valid) of things not seen.” But do thought leaders outside faith community agree with the claims of Hebrews 11:1? Apparently so.
An online NPR (National Public Radio) article quoted the work of philosophy professor, Lara Buchak of Berkeley University on the rationality of faith. Using decision theory and rational choice theory, this professor proposes: “For faith to be rational, a basic precondition first needs to be met: it must be the case that one thinks a claim sufficiently likely, and the actions it supports sufficiently beneficial. If this is the case, the ‘expected utility’ of acting on the claim outweighs the ‘expected utility’ of not doing so.” (Can Faith Ever Be Rational?/ Tania Lambrozo/9.16.2013/ npr.org)
And because I am not a student of philosophy, I had to look up the definition of “expected utility.” In any uncertainty, or in our case, any situation which requires faith, an individual will choose to act in the way that will result in the highest expected utility or best possible outcome. In layman’s terms, is what I am persuaded to be true powerful enough to alter my behavior and guide my decisions? And have I lived out this conviction that I believe what the Bible proposes?
Without sounding pious, I do believe that I have lived most of my life based on the foundation that Jesus loves me. I’ve loved and cherished both Him and His Word since I was very young. And this confident assurance guided my youthful decisions, from standing up against the bully on the bus to allowing me to love children in the slums of Trenton, New Jersey as a teen. His passion later led me into mission work with my husband in the Congo. Truly, Jesus’ faithfulness has inspired mine for nearly fifty years.
I propose that it is rational to have faith in the promises and principles of Scripture. And I believe that it is rational to allow my behavior and decisions to reflect my belief. So, that returns us to the hope mentioned in the starting verse. I can hope and expect with confidence that the promises that have guided my life will also lead to the best possible outcome. To say that I believe something and then do nothing with that belief is then the irrational path. But for me that has not been the case. I confidently believe that Jesus loves me, died for me, and defeated death for me. My hope is founded on this conviction and will produce the best possible outcome: an eternity with Him.