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Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Essential Difference between Faith and Agnosticism

Today I watched a movie about the early years of Billy Graham.  A fellow evangelist at the time and friend of Billy Graham was Charles Templeton.  Following the atrocities in the death camps of WWII and other contributing factors, Charles Templeton lost his faith.  How could there be a loving God if the all-powerful allowed this?  He also viewed the Bible as full of stories not facts—Jonah and the big fish that swallowed him being an example. How can one be a realist and still retain faith?  Charles Templeton could not.

I would like to discuss this in relation to the perceived reality as experienced by Christians.  First there is the view that mankind is not fully in control of his own perceptions.  He frequently can be blind to his own faults and sins while seeing perfectly clearly the faults and sins of others—at least in his own eyes.  In addition, man in his affairs can remarkably overlook the obvious until it is too late.  It is by a force outside our will and control—grace—which saves us from our own blindness's.  This is an occurrence so common that if one chooses not to call it grace, he must at least acknowledge the mystery of perception and its being largely outside the willful control of the self.

The essential revelation that Christians experience is that God is love.  In a way, considering natural disasters alone, this is counter-intuitive.  But it is a common experience for human beings to prevail in attitude and spirit despite incredible misfortune, and the enabling force that empowers them is love.  Love is redemptive, and mankind is well aware of the essential role and need of this characteristic.  The bottom line is that love is healthy and promises a better future; hatred does just the opposite.  Love is the only street in human experience without dead ends. To a Christian, human atrocities ironically testify to the decisive limitations of hate and the absolute goodness of love.  But again, this perception is in a sense counter-intuitive. Therefore, it is only by grace that we come to regard the regnant role of love in all of life.

Now the question, do we create an idol for love, God, or is God the ultimate source of all love?  Did God come first “in the beginning” or is God an invention of man?  This is the bedrock question that really comes down to the question could man under his own powers create ultimate, reliable truth and goodness?  There are some who readily answer this “Yes.”  It is in a sense a personal question for we must look at our own lives and ask is our perception this steady, true, reliable, and good?  To a Christian, used to his own tendency to sin willfully through misperception of the good, an affirmative answer is impossible.  His faith in the grace of God is reality based.  He relies on it constantly to be open to redemptive insights not originating in his own will.  Therefore faith is not so much a leap into the unknown as the inevitable conclusion forced from the known.  For the faithful, God is not a supposition but a demonstrated reality. His knowledge of God is rock solid.  The view of agnosticism is experientially foreign to anything he knows or feels about life.

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