Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Proof Without Pudding

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

                        Hebrews 11.1 (KJV)

Saying It Won’t Make It So

My late teens and early adulthood were spent in close companionship with my grandmother—a southern dame who had all the grace of a belle and the blunt force of a bulldozer. There was little she didn’t know, and because we were buddies as well as relatives, I felt a competitive urge to prove how much I knew. Problem was I didn’t know very much and Big Mama (yes, we really called her that) felt a moral obligation to tell me I didn’t know what I was talking about. “Saying it won’t make it so,” she’d tell me. Up north, we say, “The proof is in the pudding.” And my south-southwest friends in Missouri put it this way: “Show me." 

I recently checked the Straight-Friendly keyword frequency to be mildly surprised that “faith” tops the list by a large margin—more than “love,” “acceptance,” or other words more likely for a blog devoted to obeying Christ’s commands of unrestrained love for God and our unconditional love for our neighbors. Yet the surprise dissipated swiftly. Saying we love everyone, including our enemies, doesn’t make it so. Without showing we love them, people won’t credence what we say. Our proof is in the pudding. But in terms of our faith, presently and for as long as the our known world exists, there will be no pudding.

Lost on the Sea

No translation to date matches the King James Version’s rendering of Hebrews 11.1: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” The translation’s eloquence bedazzles us to accept its definition of faith in good faith without closing our eyes and opening our ears to see and listen to what it says. Faith functions in its own realm of intangible, invisible perception and persuasion. It’s substantiated by elusive hope and confirmed by ephemeral evidence. It unapologetically reaches past the now to embrace the next and disregards the empirical to accept the impossible. Faith inspires us to understand the insignificance of understanding. Knowing we don’t know and trusting we can’t—and might never—know are how we truly know. Because it ignores facts, faith becomes fact.

Indeed, faith swims so adamantly against everything we’re taught, learn, or can process attempting to describe its dynamics can drive us mad. But there’s a good reason for this. Our willful acquisition of knowledge in the Garden of Eden left us perpetually lost on the sea of “either/or.” Obey and live or rebel and die. Faith anchors on “all of the above.” Give, love, and forgive and you’ll be given, loved, and forgiven. In other words, faith rejects knowledge we don’t need for belief we can use. In the sixth verse of Hebrews 11 we read, “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Faith returns knowledge we stole from God’s Garden to Him. It says, “Here’s the knowledge I thought I couldn’t live without. Let’s go back to when You knew best and I trusted You to do what’s best.” That pleases Him immensely.

What No Proof Proves

Every blue moon, I swing by secular GLBT discussion boards to check out their “Religion & Spirituality” forums, where I invariably bump into angry threads by snarling cynics. I typically ignore them. But one caught my eye and provoked me so I couldn’t let it stand unchallenged for hundreds of genuinely searching readers to see. The subject line read, “Prayer? Who Needs It?” and the poster opened with “scientific data” that allegedly proved prayers go unanswered. As I read the “facts,” I wasn’t at all shocked to find a significant percentage of the study’s subjects reported answers to prayer, which the investigators dismissed as coincidence or self-help. “Until we can prove prayer works,” the poster wrote, “there’s no reason to pray.” I wrote back, “Because we can’t prove prayer works is why we pray. If we knew how it works, we wouldn’t need it. Knowledge that deep and wide would enable us to perform miracles and find answers we pray for.” The poster fired back that my logic was interesting but flawed, to which I answered, “Logic has no relevance to prayer,” and left it at that.

Having no tangible or visible proof for faith proves why we must believe. If we could quantify faith and dissect its functionality, faith’s power would be defunct. Faith isn't given to us so we can ask for what we know we can get. It’s ours so we can hope for what we’re told can’t possibly happen. It confirms what no human logic or scientific data will substantiate. It makes absolutely no sense because in every way it’s superior to our logic, comprehension, and imagination. Faith doesn’t need pudding. Big Mama was right. Saying it don’t make it so. But believing it surely can.

If you're looking for empirical proof that faith works, you won't find it--not here or anywhere else.


genevieve said...

A great post, Tim. Faith does fly against this information have-to-prove-it-all age. I cannot explain to people why I'm transgender and I leave it at that.

I do remind people that there's many things we cannot prove but they do exist. Someone share with me years ago that 'a testimony of conversion is something you can't prove but no one can disprove'.

I love the KJV of Hebrews 11:1.

Tim said...

"Something you can't prove but no one can disprove"--what a great way of explaining faith!

On occasion, when a person flatly says, "There is no God," I answer, "You don't mean that." "I do," they always answer. And then I reply, "Not really. What you actually mean is you don't believe there's a God. You have faith, because belief is belief."

No more than we can prove God's existence, no one can disprove it. Like it or not, we all believe in something.

I'm so grateful for this point, Genevieve. It's spot-on and worth all of us remembering. Thanks for this.