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Biblical Faith and Skepticism

      Skeptics rightly complain that Christians point to answered prayer as proof for the existence of God while ignoring the fact that many events happen contrary to those very prayers. 

      On the other hand, popular Christian slogans proclaim that faith works and prayer changes things.  Followers of the so-called “Health and Wealth Gospel” take these slogans to an extreme and contend that true faith ensures against suffering.  Hebrews 11 corrects both skeptical and Christian false ideas about faith.

      Hebrews 11, “The Hall of Fame of Faith,” is a favorite of Christians.  By faith the walls of Jericho fell (v. 30), Rahab survived (v. 31), and David conquered kingdoms (vv. 32-33).  Surely here the Bible shows that the skeptics are wrong not to believe in God.  Faith works.

      Yes, but the skeptics are right too.  Faith doesn’t always “work” in the sense that events turn out the way Christians pray.  In fact, the author of Hebrews supports the skeptics against simplistic and unbiblical Christian thinking.  After the glowing accounts of the “victories” of faith, he immediately proceeds to write, “Others were tortured … chained and put in prison … sawed in two … destitute, persecuted and mistreated” (vv. 34-37).  Yet these too were “commended for their faith” (v. 39).

      How can faith have such obviously different results?  The answer is to be found in Hebrews 11:1-2.  “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.  This is what the ancients were commended for” (NIV).  Faith interprets what we see by what we don’t see.  With regard to creation, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” (v. 3). 

      However, most Christians fail to grasp that faith perceives God’s invisible hand in sufferings as well (vv. 35ff.).      How does faith work in suffering?  Those who were tortured “refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection” (v. 35).  Faith is being sure of what we hope for.  Faith not only looks behind the physical reality to see God’s creative hand, but it also looks beyond the present reality to receive what God has promised for the future (v. 39).

      Christians, although it is proper to say to the skeptics, “Look, and see what God has done,” we must also firmly confess with Paul, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21).  If not, we will be guilty of walking by sight and not by faith and will surely stumble in the day of trial.

      Skeptics, God in his mercy gave to Doubting Thomas the opportunity to see the risen Lord Jesus, but the greater blessing is for those who have not seen and yet believed (Jn 20:29).  If you persist in only believing what you see, you will both eventually doubt what you see and also never know the truth that comes by faith.  

      You might want to listen to Pastor Jim Congdon’s sermon “Escaped!” that stimulated my thinking on this issue (

3 thoughts on “Biblical Faith and Skepticism

  1. ¡Hola Profe Don Bill!

    Estaba buscando algo de Chesterton y ¡zaz! ¡Lo encontré a usted en esta página! Cuánto gusto me da encontrarle en el ciberespacio edificando la fe cristiana. Y cuánto más gusto me da saludarle a través de estas líneas. Voy a leer un poco más de su página pues aprendí tanto de usted que no puedo desaprovechar esta oportunidad. ¡Gracias!

    Un saludo cordial a usted y a Mary.

    Su siempre agradecida pupila,


    1. Muchas gracias, Gabriela, y miles disculpas por no haber respondido antes. No soy muy inteligente con la tecnología y no sabía que tuviera comentarios. ¿Cómo está? ¿Qué estaba buscando de Chesterton? ¡Qué bendición de escuchar de usted!

  2. Billy – I wrote a rather lengthy response to your above essay. Tried to submit it, and Wham! It didn’t send it because I didn’t include my email address. So here’s the short version.
    1. Rarely do I hear this aspect of reasons for suffering preached in the my white, well educated church. We usually hear suffering produces character, reveals sin in our own lives, develops wisdom that can be imparted to other’s, brings us closer to God… And we hear a great deal about practical solutions or suggestions.
    2. The context for the Hebrew passage may be important here. What kind of sufferings is Paul talking about? Divorce, joblessness, hunger, emotional illness, health issues? It goes back to the Phil. passage. He is specifically speaking about suffering, even dying for one’s faith in Christ. So is this passage relevant to anything but suffering for God? If it applies in a broader sense, how do we use this passage to help others enduring simple life sorrows?
    3. Could you address this faith in God that looks to the future and the idea “Religion is the opiate of the people?”

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