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TITLE: Faith and Intellect: Mutually Exclusive?
By Dave Kissling
09/11/06
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Unbelievers often claim that the Christian faith is only for the simple-minded. They presume that if we Christians were to use our intellect, to think things through for ourselves, we would discard what they call the myths and fables of "religion". All too often Christians react to this by denying their intellect altogether, which is exactly the wrong move.

The plain fact is, we choose our beliefs apart from intellect. Intellect is not only not the enemy of faith, but when properly used, it can complement faith. Intellect never determines our beliefs, it only enhances them by coming up with supportive facts. Based on what Iíve learned from personal observation, this is how it seems to work.

In material matters itís pretty simple: people believe something because they can see it. I was living and working in Aurora, Colorado, when seven and a half years ago, I heard that innocent kids at Columbine High School, about 25 miles away, had been murdered by a pair of power-starved boys. I could not believe it; nothing like that had ever happened before. My high school experiences, while far from perfect, had never been that intenseóbut then, that was before prayer was outlawed from schools. However, the more I saw the news reports and read the paper, even passed by the cordoned-off school with my parents, the more my mind could accept that the tragedy had actually happened. No one can convince me otherwise, because Iíve seen the evidence.

In spiritual matters itís more complicated, for most of the time we cannot see spirits. In explaining the spirit world to Nicodemus, Jesus said, "The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the [Holy] Spirit" (John 3:8). We cannot prove the spiritual world by physical realities because they are on two separate planes. We can see the results of the spirit world, just as we can see trees bending and feel rushing air, causing us to believe that the wind is blowing. We cannot see the wind, but we know it exists by observing what it does. The same is true of a more violent wind, such as a tornado. No one has actually seen a tornado; theyíve only seen the clouds drawn into its swirling vortex, indicating that itís there.

Some people say, "I wonít believe in God unless you can prove Heís real"; that is, the speaker has to physically see God with his own eyes before he will believe. But again, applying physical proofs to the spiritual is lame. We cannot prove the spiritual by physical means; we can only infer it from the evidence around us. I cannot prove that God created a pansy, but neither can anyone else prove He didnít. Nevertheless, the incredible softness of the petals and leaves suggests to me that a Master Designer had to have made it that way; while another man, by his chosen belief system, might insist it grew that way by accident. Both views are logical, but theyíre based on different premises, different belief systems. Both cannot be true!

The truth is, the intellect always consults the belief system before making conclusions, accepting whatever fits the belief and rejecting what doesnít. For instance, people who hate God tend to focus on the violence done in His Name throughout history, or imagining ulterior motives in the most innocuous acts, completely ignoring the much larger evidence of beneficial Christian charities, and all the good individual men and women of God have done.

The biggest thing they choose to ignore is the Person of Jesus Christ, on whose character and vicarious death in our behalf Christianity is based. Thus, we choose what we believe apart from intellect. Trying to base our beliefs on our intellect is completely backward from nature; it simply does not work that way!

Nor does it work to deny intellect altogether, as Iíve heard some Christians do, because itís a self-defeating proposition. Their byword is, "God said it, I believe it, and thatís good enough for me." Thatís fine for things that physical evidence cannot help us resolve, such as the existence of Heaven, but it does not suffice for most other things. Once we choose to believe something, we must let our intellect work as God meant it to, and our faith will grow. Denying our intellect only leads to a shallow faith, no way to answer critics on their levelóand most of all, a frustrating and ineffectual Christian life.

To illustrate my point, let me share a parable the Lord once gave me. The human intellect is a bird, free to fly wherever it wants, land where it wants, look at anything it wants. All of us have this bird, Christians and unbelievers alike. The difference is, our bird has a secure nest to return to. The nest rests on the branch called Jesus Christ, in a tree called the infallible Word of God, and built of sticks bound with implicit faith in Jesus as Lord. Even the strongest wind of unbelief cannot shake it. Our bird is free to fly around, land somewhere else, look at other things, but it always has that secure nest to come back to when day is done.

Unbelieving birds, however, are constantly restless. Theyíre always looking for a solid branch, but rejecting ours because they donít think itís strong enough. They tend to compare our branch to the delicate reaches of saplings, but the fact is that theyíve never really tried ours. So they flit from branch to branch, test one for awhile, then go somewhere else, rest there, and fly off again. They want to assume that all branches are attached to the same tree, so they try to include all in their world view. The birds become unfocused, confused, and they quickly wear themselves out.

Some birds will settle on the tender shoots at the end of the branch, assuming theyíre as strong as the part attached to the tree. The wind picks up and blows them off, and they chatter at it and regain their perch, resenting those resting firmly in the oak boughs not far away.

Jesus said, "Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven" (Matthew 18:3). A childís intellect has not yet developed. His faith is complete and sincere, with nothing to hinder. What that says to the restless intellectual bird is this: stop flying from place to place and rest in the nest of Christ for awhile. Give it a good honest try. Feel how secure it is. It has never wavered in the 2,000 years of its existence. All other perches come and go, but this one has always been here. Then you can fly around and look at other things all you want, for now you have a secure nest to come back to when day is done.
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