A Reasonable Faith

(This article appeared in the ODT on Friday June 1st, 2018)

This column has been called ‘Faith and Reason’ for some time now begging the question of how the two are related. For some, of course, the very nature of faith disqualifies it from any semblance to reason. For them it is, by definition, un-reasonable, that is, a belief not sustained by normal boundaries of reason. Certainly God’s existence doesn’t seem to be a testable theory. This very fact has caused many to label faith irrational and therefore absurd. But there are many things which operate perfectly well in life which are also not reducible to scientific testing.

eight_col_otago_universityLove is not a ‘rational’ phenomena in the sense of being able to be explained by scientific enquiry. Nor, for that matter is consciousness. Science hasn’t been able to explain this so far. Beauty is another very powerful phenomenon that cannot be explained scientifically and neither, for that matter can friendship. We can know something about these things but what we do know certainly doesn’t explain them or provide a ‘reason’ for them.

Furthermore one must ask why we need a scientific theory of something before we consider it to be real or, indeed, useful. Only very good physicists can really understand electricity enough to explain it fully and yet we use it every day without giving a single thought to explaining it. The fact that GPS systems, in order to be accurate, have to be calibrated to take into account the way time is effected by gravity can be explained by specialists in the field, but again, we use these tools everyday and most of us are content to use them without need of an explanation.

Even the world’s top scientists can’t explain why ice has less mass than water or why hot water freezes faster than cold or why a bicycle works to keep its rider upright (no it isn’t because of the gyroscopic effect apparently!)

But none of this matters because whether we can explain it or not – it works; it produces something that is useful and helpful and so our lack of a reason for it working doesn’t trouble us. And this is why the dismissing of faith on the basis that it is not explainable is not very persuasive. If faith works, if it makes us a better people, if it guides us into a peaceful and productive existence and a life of health rather than disease we should grab it with both hands and give ourselves to it even if the outcomes are only partially achievable in our own lives.

Now, of course, some argue that faith has not made us better people but has been responsible for religious wars, bigotry and prejudice; one can’t deny that the Church has been implicated in and even responsible for all of these at certain times. However, we should also recognise the great good conferred upon humankind through the Christian faith including, for example, the invention of modern nursing by Florence Nightingale, the pioneering of modern science by virtue of the demythologising of the natural world, and the invention of the modern general schooling system through the parish schools of Britain, to name just a few.

Add to this the fact that every human institution has been responsible at some point for producing incredible harm including modern medicine (the thalidomide tragedy), politics (communist purges in many former communist regimes) and modern economies (the last and latest Wall Street crash) and it becomes clear that anything human, no matter how true and right, has the potential to be used for evil.

Furthermore, the existence of mistakes in a fallible and very human church doesn’t disprove the notion of God’s loving and gracious existence just as the mistakes and negligence of some in other fields of human endeavour doesn’t negate or disprove the knowledge or validity of that community.

The faith of the Christian community rests on the basis of an highly credible historical witness and a rational examination of the alternatives. It rests on the promise of a life lived to the fullest – the best life possible and it rests on almost 2000 years of contribution to the societies within which it has been practiced.

 

The Spirit in Tonga

I spent much of last week in Tonga at the invitation of a ministry based in the Southern Presbytery called 3D Disciples. This is a magnificent disciple making ministry planted by John and Heather Gullick of Riversdale. John has been the Presbyterian minister there for over 30 years and has maintained a lively and active parish for all of that time. He and Heather are a wonderful team and they have continued to bring people to Christ and disciple them through all of those years.

The 3D model is similar to other models which use a mix of classroom based teaching with practical field based experience usually in a place which is quite different from their home background. This both removes distractions and allows students to experience the dislocation of a cultural shift which creates space for them to rely on God more.

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My hosts Tapani and Lele’ana Kauvaka (left) and Foliaki Tauofa.

 

I went up as Moderator to both visit the base they have in Tonga and to make contact with various church leaders up there to highlight to work of 3D. It was, frankly, a God-moment for me.

Tonga is still a world immersed in a Christendom model. From the royal family to many of the government ministers, the public servants and so on down – acknowledgement of God’s role in their lives is a top priority. I spoke twice at the two prisons on Tonga. On both occasions the prisoners welcomed us by bursting out into a beautiful Tongan hymn in perfect 4 part harmony sung with magnificent voices and significant emotion and meaning. It was an incredible display of how deeply the Christian faith has been allowed to mold and shape the character of the nation and, frankly, it is good.

Are there the usual signs of normal human inconsistency and hypocrisy; of syncretism and shallow faith? Of course. But these are significantly outweighed by the incredible fruit a deeply Christian up bringing provides the majority of Tongans. Prayer is second nature. Scripture is referred to and woven into the fabric of their behaviour at every level of life. Love of neighbour is practiced even on the verdant battlefields of Rugby League over there where the hits are ferocious and tempers clearly become frayed yet… after the battle is over both teams will often pray together and thank God for the ability to play the game and enjoy the battle.

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Another very full church on Sunday.

I was asked to bless a new car given to the Minister of Internal Affairs for use by an officer charged with the care of people with disabilities. Every speaker began by saying something to effect that he/she would like to start by giving thanks to Him from who every good gift comes… There is a deep and abiding reverence for God in this nation and it starts at the very top.

The Royal family are committed Christians but not simply as Church goers. The Queen organizes and attends a 5am prayer meeting on the first Sunday of every month to pray specifically for the nation and to seek God for guidance in national affairs. I spoke at this meeting and it was a wonderful experience to see people weeping as they prayed for their own nation.

 

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A car is blessed.

I can imagine some asking or thinking ‘how long can it last?’ One certainly notices that things are changing and this is having an influence on the young but I believe that Tonga will weather many of the storms and contribute significantly to a renewed Church throughout the Pacific.

The nation was once known as the warriors of the Pacific. They are now warriors for God. They have turned their energies towards building the kingdom and I think they will be used in marvelous ways.

God Bless Tonga!

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The famous blow holes.