Faith as Absolute and Unconditional

“Faith is the foundation…” (Hb.11:1, SLT)

The empirical philosopher, whose method is chiefly inductive in nature, fails to understand faith. For he sees the faith of God as impossible and the explanations of a theologian appear to suffer faith to die the death of a thousand qualifications. Such is the case illustrated in the Parable of the Invisible Gardener by John Wisdom. Antony Flew, in his agnostic period, analysed the parable in the following empirical terms:

Let us begin with a parable. It is a parable developed from a tale told by John Wisdom in his haunting and revolutionary article “Gods.” Once upon a time two explorers came upon a clearing in the jungle. In the clearing were growing many flowers and many weeds. One explorer says, “Some gardener must tend this plot.” The other disagrees, “There is no gardener.” So they pitch their tents and set a watch. No gardener is ever seen. “But perhaps he is an invisible gardener.” So they set up a barbed-wire fence. They electrify it. They patrol with bloodhounds. (For they remember how H. G. Well’s The Invisible Man could be both smelt and touched though he could not be seen.) But no shrieks ever suggest that some intruder has received a shock. No movements of the wire ever betray an invisible climber. The bloodhounds never give cry. Yet still the Believer is not convinced. “But there is a gardener, invisible, intangible, insensible, to electric shocks, a gardener who has no scent and makes no sound, a gardener who comes secretly to look after the garden which he loves.” At last the Sceptic despairs, “But what remains of your original assertion? Just how does what you call an invisible, intangible, eternally elusive gardener differ from an imaginary gardener or even from no gardener at all?”

In this parable we can see how what starts as an assertion, that something exist or that there is some analogy between certain complexes of phenomena, may be reduced step by step to an altogether different status, to an expression perhaps of a “picture preference.” The Sceptic says there is no gardener. The Believer says there is a gardener (but invisible, etc.). One man talks about sexual behavior. Another man prefers to talk of Aphrodite (but knows that there is not really a superhuman person additional to, and somehow responsible for, all sexual phenomena). The process of qualification may be checked at any point before the original assertion is completely withdrawn and something of that first assertion will remain (Tautology). Mr. Wells’ invisible man could not, admittedly, be seen, but in all other respects he was a man like the rest of us. But though the process of qualification may be and of course usually is, checked in time, it is not always judicially so halted. Someone may dissipate his assertion completely without noticing that he has done so. A fine brash hypothesis may thus be killed by inches, the death by a thousand qualifications.

Contrary to such a situation, the Bible doesn’t portray the faith of God as a conclusion reached through inductive reasoning or on the basis of mere empirical reasoning. On the other hand, faith precedes understanding and is the first premise from which all other conclusions are derived. Therefore, the writer of Hebrews says, “Faith is the foundation…” (Heb.11:1, SLT).

The faith of God cannot be contingent like the faith of this empirical universe. God is absolute; therefore, the faith of God is also absolute. It is not based on something else but is the foundation of everything else. It is not based on evidence. It is the evidence. It is unconditional and doesn’t fluctuate or waver no matter what the circumstances are. It trusts in God like Job even when surrounded by adversity. It, like Shadrach, Meshech, and Abednego, declares that God is able to deliver, but even if He didn’t, they would not bow to fear or anything false. It is not utilitarian, the means, but is the substance. Faith is willing to let go off Isaac, because it is not based on Isaac, but is unconditional acknowledgement and trust in the goodness and power of God. Inductive reasoning can never be final; therefore, those who look for signs in order to believe can never really believe. Their hearts are divided, mixed, and faithless. However, those who come to God believe that He is and is the rewarder of those who seek Him. Faith sees evil, but is not destroyed by evil. Rather it overcomes it. For, trials cannot extinguish faith; trials strengthen and reinforce faith. Faith doesn’t become weak and doubtful and stops praying because it has seen that the billows don’t quell down despite all their cries; faith remains soundly restful on the pillow of peace that proceeds from the acknowledgement of the goodness and faithfulness of God. Faith is not irritated, frustrated, or exasperated with situations. Faith changes situations; for one who believes can move any mountain.

Viktor E Frankl, a Holocaust survivor and founder of Logotherapy, when faced with the question of faith in the midst of suffering and the problem of evil, observed:

Either you have your doubts. Then you have to start your skepticism, to quote a figure in a novel by Dostoevsky, you have to start it with one single innocent child that had to suffer. Or else, you will maintain your faith in God irrespective of any number of victims. Because either you have a belief in God which is unconditional, which you maintain under each and every conditions or the faith is too weak and will sooner or later break down. So, religious belief, as I see is to be an unconditional one. And the most and honest and appropriate approach is that.. of Job. After trying to bargain as it were with God, he then says that “I shut my mouth. I see I don’t know enough to argue with You. You know better. I believe in You that You are not only omnipotent, but also omniscient and omnibenevolent.” So, he confesses and this is… a thread that goes through out the history of the human spirit… So this skepticism has to turn itself against itself. This is the only approach we have.. approach by a believer. To say that “Up to Auschwitz I was a believer, from Auschwitz on I am no longer”– this is impossible. Now, the strange thing that most of American theologians seem to forget or overlook, to my knowledge or, better to say, to my experience: those who were religious, among those who were, had been, religious personalities, the absolute majority, in view of the holocaust they had to go through themselves, and in spite of the holocaust and what they had to live through themselves, they not only maintained their faith, but… even their belief was fostered or strengthened because it had been an absolute one and an unconditional one. While the weak faith was crumbling, the genuine faith was strengthened. This is my personal experience with only a few exceptions.

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