From a sermon by the late great Dr. John Claypool
I think one of our big problems is that we’ve never really understood clearly the nature of faith. As I was growing up, I thought that faith was the opposite of knowing. I was like the little boy that C.S. Lewis talks about who says, “Faith is having to believe something that you know ain’t so.” That is, it’s embracing something that’s contrary to all of the ways that you encounter reality.
But faith is not an alternative to knowing. Faith rightly understood is yet another avenue to knowing. By the grace of creation, we have been given so many ways of interacting with the outside world. We are, as someone has said, a wonderfully porous creature.
When I was in the second grade, my teacher said, “I want to teach you this afternoon about the different ways that you have of perceiving the many splendored world all about you.” She said, “You have an eye gate through which all the wonder of color and shape enters into your experience. You have the ear gate through which the wonder of sound comes, the nose gate through which odor comes, the tongue gate which is where taste comes into your experience, the skin gate that enables you to feel and to perceive. You have these five ways of interacting with the world outside yourself. There are many kinds of reality out there, and you have many different ways of perceiving.”
I want to say to you that what the eye is to color, what the ear is to sound, what the nose is to odor, faith is to the divine dimension of reality. Faith is the capacity that we have been given by the grace of God to perceive that which is essentially spiritual, which is sacred and holy by nature. You reach religious conclusions the same way the scientists reach conclusions in the laboratory. The difference between the knowing of science and the knowing of faith is that the object that we are perceiving is spiritual in nature and not physical.
The point is that when we enter a search for religious reality, we need to sit down before a fact like a little child, exactly as the faithful scientist does. We need to recognize that we have the capacity of faith, which is God’s way of helping us perceive the divine dimension of reality. We know things of the spirit in that same kind of humility that we know things with our eyes, our ears, our nose. Those organs perceive things beyond themselves and allow them to enter into our experience.
Faith is yet another avenue to knowledge; it is not an alternative to knowledge. Therefore, in making up your mind about the great alternate questions, I invite you to a kind of openness that believes that truth is more important than anything else, and that God is the source of all truth. If you will be honest in your asking, seeking and knocking, if you’ll open the windows of your soul 360 degrees and know that God has ways of making God’s own reality known to us through the capacity of faith, there will come â€¦God’s moment when God will make God’s own reality known to you in ways that are profoundly authentic. It will be something from the outside in and not from the inside out.
I believe you would agree that one of the great Christian converts of the 20th century is C.S. Lewis. When he was ten years old, his mother was afflicted with cancer and died. As a little boy brought up in the church, he had prayed earnestly to God that she would be healed and not die, and when she did, it was a terrible disappointment. Because children are so concrete in the way they see things, he concluded that his prayer was not answered because there was no answerer, there was no such thing as a God who cared for His people. In his grief, he made up his mind that there must not be a God.
He was tremendously intelligent. He was sent away to private schools almost immediately, and for years he assumed that the universe is empty, that there is nothing divine, nothing purposeful behind all reality. He collected all kinds of evidence to support this opinion he had developed in childhood that there was nothing, nothing behind it all but great random emptiness. When he got to Oxford and became a brilliant student of philosophy and medieval English, he began to encounter individuals who were believers in a God. He was amazed to find out that they were careful in their scholarship, that they were very, very truth-seeking people just like he intended to be. He also found books that began to raise the possibility that maybe there was a mystery behind it all, that maybe what he had decided at ten years of age was not the deepest truth.
Lewis says in his autobiography that as he began to realize that there just might be something real behind all that corresponds to this word, God, his honest feeling was not– I hope Christianity is true, but I’m afraid it’s not. He said his real feeling state was– I’m afraid it’s true, and I hope it’s not. He had 20 years invested in atheistic arguments. He did not want to admit that perhaps all these years he had been mistaken. There was this great prejudice in him against having to embrace something that for years he had railed against.
But â€¦ because of his love for truth above all things, there came a time, as he writes in his autobiography, when alone in his room in Maudlin College in Oxford, that God literally entered into his experience. He could not in the name of truth deny the reality of this power that was breaking in from beyond. Because he loved truth more than anything else, he sent up the white flag of surrender. He said, “I was the most reluctant convert in all the isle, in all the isle of England.”
Religion for him became discovery and not invention. Some days later, people who knew him began to hear him talk differently and asked, “What on earth has happened to you?” Lewis said with great humility, “My God has happened to me.”
You see religious truth is event. It is the mystery breaking in from beyond and authenticating that there is, beyond it all, this incredible and wondrous and mysterious reality.
Therefore, as you ask the question, “I, why? Why do I believe what I do?” I invite you to realize that authentic truth is of the same cloth no matter where you find it. It breaks in from beyond. It is something that exists apart from our desires and apart from our needfulness. It is what it is. If we are committed to embracing that above all things and willing to ask, seek and knock, if you will in openness say, “I want to know the truth and I want to know it whatever shape it takes,” if that is your spirit, I have every confidence that in God’s good time and in God’s own mysterious and inexplicable ways, God will have His hour with you.
You will see truth for what it is, discovery and not invention. When God comes, I hope you will respond with that God-given capacity, that sixth sense, that power of faith which enables us to know and to receive and to be engulfed with truth. In your intellectual journeys, I wish each of you a brave and honest and hopeful destination.