The Leap of Faith

leap

In a sermon at church I recently quoted something that Hendrikus Berkhof (1914 – 1995) wrote.  Berkhof was an important Dutch Reformed theologian from the last generation, and in one of his books he described that what he found in the Bible – in both the Old Testament and the New – as being a matter of “faith-religion.” He explained what this meant by saying that the Bible asks us to “reach beyond (our own personal) experience, (to) hold on against the evidence, (it’s) a trust which at times can become totally blind, (it’s something that) always has the undertone of the ‘not yet’ in it, (it’s all about) living by a promise” (Christian Faith – 16).

  • God asked Abraham to leave everyone who was familiar and everything that was secure to venture out to the place where God would lead him.  “Trust me,” God asked Abraham.
  • God asked Moses to go back to Egypt where he was a wanted man in order to set His people free.  “Trust me,” God asked Moses.
  • God asked David to become a King when he was just a boy and while Saul still raged from the throne. “Trust me,” God asked David.
  • God asked Jesus to go to Jerusalem where He would be betrayed by His friends and killed by the powerful.  “Trust me,” the Father asked the Son.
  • And God asks us to believe that He is there, that He knows all about our needs, and that He loves us in spite of ourselves.  “Trust me,” God asks us.

boatIt was Soren Kierkegaard (1813 – 1855), the Danish Philosopher, who said that faith is like a leap in the dark.  He said that it’s sort of like being asked to step out of a boat knowing that there is nothing but 10,000 fathoms of water beneath your feet!  And he was right — sometimes faith does feel like this, and that’s what I think Hendrikus Berkhof was trying to tell us.  Thinking and talking like this takes me back to my days as a youth minister in Southeastern Idaho.

One of the staples in my bag of tricks back then was something called a “faith walk.”  I would pair up all of the kids in the youth group, blindfold one of them in each pair, and then send them off on a kind of obstacle course.  There would always be trees to avoid, creeks to be crossed, fences to be gotten over, or around, and other people on the course to be dodged.  And because one of the pair was always blindfolded, unable to see a thing, he or she had to rely entirely on the directions given by his or her partner — hence the name for this little exercise: a “faith” or “trust” walk.

grassNaturally, there was always that one kid in the youth group who delighted in deliberately walking his or her partner into walls and off of cliffs, but generally speaking, this group building exercise always taught the kids something important about what it means to have to trust somebody else.  Of course, it never hurt to let the kids know that just as soon as the one who had been blindfolded had gotten through the course that the roles would immediately be reversed and it would become the other person in the pair’s turn to have to wear the blindfold. I always wanted my kids to learn to trust each other, and this exercise helped in that process.  But more than that, I wanted them to learn how to trust God.

I’ve heard it said that “when we come to the end of all the light that we possess, and all we can see in front of us is darkness, to take another step means that we’ve got to believe that one of two things will happen next — either there will be something solid there for us to strand on, or else God will teach us how to fly.”  And I think that this is right.  I agree with the Dutch theologian Hendrikus Berkhof: the Bible is a “faith-religion.” And I agree with the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard: there comes a moment for each one of us when we’ve actually got to step out of the boat, take the leap of faith.  But what could possibly convince us to do this?   Is this just a desperate, irrational choice, or is there more to it than that?

The late Evangelical theologian Francis Schaeffer used to tell this story –

Suppose we are climbing in the Alps and are very high on the bare rock, when suddenly the fog rolls in. The guide turns to us and says that the ice is forming and that there is no hope; before morning we will all freeze to death here on the shoulder of the mountain. Simply to keep warm the guide keeps us moving in the dense fog further and further out on the shoulder until none of us have any idea where we are. After an hour or so, someone says to the guide, “Suppose I dropped and hit a ledge ten feet down in the fog. What would happen then?” The guide would say that you might make it until the morning and thus live. So, with absolutely no knowledge or any reason to support his action, one of the group hangs and drops into the fog. This would be one kind of a leap of faith.

But suppose, however, that after we have worked out on the shoulder in the midst of the fog and the growing ice on the rock, we had stopped and we heard a voice which said, “You cannot see me, but I know exactly where you are from your voices.  I am on another ridge. I have lived in these mountains, man and boy, for over sixty years and I know every foot of them. I assure you that ten feet below you there is a ledge. If you hang and drop, you can make it through the night and I will get you in the morning.  Would you?

And Francis Schaeffer explained –

I would not hang and drop at once, but would ask questions to try to ascertain if the man knew what he was talking about.  In the Alps, for example, I would ask him his name. If the name he gave me was the name of a family from that part of the mountains, it would count a great deal to me. In the Swiss Alps there are certain family names that indicate mountain families of that area. In my desperate situation, even though time would be running out, I would ask him what to me would be the adequate and sufficient questions, and only when I became convinced by his answers, then I would hang and drop. [He is There & He Is Not Silent – Appendix #2 – “Faith” Versus Faith – 99-100]

Just like that blindfolded kid on a faith walk during youth group in Pocatello, Idaho, 40 years ago, or that climber stranded on the side of a mountain in Switzerland, we’ve each got to decide for ourselves whether or not we’re going to move out believing what we’re being told when we can’t see what’s in front of us.  And more often than not, it seems to me, that what finally determines whether we do or we don’t is the credibility of the one who is extending the invitation, the reliability of the one who’s asking us to trust him.  Alexander Campbell, one of the founders of my own spiritual tradition, argued that – “Faith is the simple belief of testimony.’’ He said that saving faith is nothing more and nothing less than having confidence in what we are being told because we trust the one who is doing the telling.  And this explains my relationship with Scripture.

John 17:20 says that we now believe in Christ “through the word” of the Apostles. Ephesians 2:20 says that our faith is built on the foundation of the Apostles. I John opens with its author asking us to believe what he has to say about Jesus Christ because he had seen Him with his own two eyes, heard Him with his own two ears and touched Him with his own two hands (1:1-4).  2 Peter urges us not to “follow cleverly devised tales,” but to believe instead in what he had to say about Jesus Christ because he himself had been there with Him as an “eyewitness” (2 Peter 1:16).  And in the Gospel of John, right after Thomas reached out and touched the wounds in Jesus’ hands and side a week after Easter, persuading him that Christ was indeed risen from the dead, Jesus said, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (John 20:29).  But instead of this being the invitation to a completely “blind faith” as it is usually explained, I recognize that my capacity to believe even though I have not seen rests to a significant degree on the fact that Thomas did see, and that his doubt was turned to faith as a result, and that I know that this happened because it is in the New Testament.  This is how I believe “through their word,” and it is the basis of my Biblical Christianity.

The believers’ “beatitude” is I Peter 1:8 – “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.” And I find that the only way this works for me is when I have a Bible in my hands, head, and heart. DBS+

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Leap of Faith

  1. The word “hope” usually goes with the word faith. I’ve never liked the word “hope” because it implies that there is a chance that your faith is wrong or things will not happen. There is nothing wrong about my faith. Things may happen that I don’t like but my faith is still there.

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