71. Faith as a Placebo pt. 2

                Last week I told the story of a young man, raised as a Christian, who was concerned that his faith was just a placebo – that he only saw evidences of the truth of Christianity because that’s what he’d been told to expect.  If he’d been raised differently, say as a Hindu, or an atheist, he would instead be seeing evidences for their truthfulness.  It was a legitimate concern and one that actually contains some truth.  Once we make a faith commitment of whatever sort, and everyone does, that commitment helps guide our interpretation of life.  It’s the foundation we stand on and push against as we make life decisions.  So, in a way, faith of any sort creates at least some bias.  This is unavoidable.  Nevertheless, if our faith is built around good reasons, it’s not just a blind faith, it’s a good bet; a reasonable faith.  I believe that is the case when it comes to following Jesus Christ.  I will not be able, in this article, or even in one or two short articles, to prove my case, but for those interested, I’d encourage you to read a book like The Case for Christ, by Lee Strobel.  This is a fascinating read about a hard-nosed non-Christian reporter who set out trying to disprove Christianity and ended up believing in Christ instead.

                In this discussion, I want to focus on why, despite the risk that Christianity could be a placebo, it’s still worth making a strong faith commitment.


What are the advantages me of making a strong faith commitment to Christ?

1.   A strong faith commitment to Christ opens my eyes to truths I might otherwise miss
                This assertion hits at the heart of my friend’s concern.  Does faith cause us to see things that are really there or does it cause us, through wishful thinking, to merely see what we expect to see or want to see?  It can, of course, do either of these.  This is one of the tricky aspects of faith--it can reveal reality; but it can also shape reality – at least in our minds.  Faith is always a calculated risk, which is why it’s so important that the object of our faith be carefully weighed and evaluated.
                Faith, by guiding our focus, allows us to spot connections we may not have noticed.  When I believe that my wife loves me, for example, I’m more likely to observe the many ways that her love manifests itself.  If I don’t believe she loves me I’ll overlook or discredit a lot of these same loving actions.   In the same way, if God truly is at work in our world, much of what He’s doing in us and through us and around us will only be spotted and appreciated with the help of a faith filter.    Faith changes both what we focus on and how we interpret what we see.   Joseph, for example,  guided by faith, saw God’s sovereign hand in his brothers’ treachery when they, out of jealousy, sold him into slavery (Gen. 50:15-21).   Faith helps us to see everything differently – whether it’s God, our circumstances, ourselves, or others.  This perception is crucial if God exists and we want to respond constructively to him.

2.  A strong faith commitment to Christ  gives me strength and resilience in pursuing my purpose.
                 Life is often tough and confusing.  Faith allows us to see the big picture. If we have faith in our doctor, for example, we believe him when he says that our treatment will heal us even though, at the moment, it makes us feel worse.  In the case of Christianity the big picture includes understanding that God loves us, that He guides our circumstances, and that, in the end, “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him” (Rom. 8:28).   We realize that, regardless of how things look at the moment, it’s no time to quit.  We’re moving in the right direction and, eventually, we’ll reap the benefits if we keep on.  This is true of all sorts of faith visions, secular or sacred,  but Christianity, in particular, is built around the importance of perseverance and accepting delayed gratification (Galatians 6:9) because God is usually invisible and silent and His ways are not our ways.  Sometimes it feels like God has abandoned us and gone off to take a nap in some distant galaxy. Without faith, we lose patience and the long-term perspective and grab for life’s more instant and tangible rewards.  This is short-sighted, as the next observation points out.

3.  A strong faith commitment to Christ brings me wonderful rewards
                 This is usually why we choose faith in the first place – we believe that it will pay off in some way.   Often, the only way to experience certain rewards is to exercise faith.  You may choose, for instance,  to take a step of faith and marry someone.  Will that bring reward?  It might or it might not, but the only way to make the rewards of marriage possible is to exercise some faith up front.  This is especially true of Christianity, where the potential benefits, if true, are enormous.   Faith opens the door to salvation from our sins (Rom. 10:9,10), to eternal life in Heaven with God (Rev. 21:1-4), to becoming spiritually beautiful, even in this life (Gal. 5:22,23)  and so on.  On the flip side, though , our lack of faith limits what God’s willing to do in our lives.    In Matthew 13:58 we are told that Jesus did not do many miracles in His hometown “because of their lack of faith.”  1 Corinthians 3:10-15 describes two types of believers, those whose lives, when judged by God, yield “gold, silver and costly stones,” and those who, though saved, yield only “wood hay or straw”.  The first group receives God’s greater rewards, while the second, though rewarded with Heaven (which is still wonderful), are a disappointment to God.  A strong faith commitment versus a weak faith commitment is, I believe, the difference between the two groups.
                 Does faith influence what we see?  It does.  And sometimes, I suspect, we read God’s hand into situations where it’s unwarranted.  We too easily turn “our thing” into a “God thing”.  Be at least a little wary when people say “God told me this or that”, especially if it’s not already found in the Bible.  Sometimes it’s true, sometimes, it’s wishful thinking. 

But faith, based on reason, is absolutely crucial for living a solid Christ life.  “We live by faith, not by sight” says Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:7.  The writer of Hebrews 11:6 adds:  “And without faith it is impossible to please God.”  Furthermore, we have little to lose and everything to gain.  I’ve followed Jesus for many years, and, despite the struggles faith brings, I like where it has brought me spiritually.  I want to be like Christ.  I want His wonderful qualities and have reaped the benefits of being far more loving, kind, truthful, unselfish, etc., than I would have been without following Him.  My own natural tendencies, apart from Christ, aren’t nearly so nice.  And all of this is only the start.  One day I will be made perfect and live in Heaven with Jesus.  If you haven’t made a faith commitment to Christ, why not do it today?