This entry is part 5 of 9 in the series: ‘The Sin of Certainty’ (Enns)
OK, so Peter Enns anticipated the objection I raised in response to chapters 3 and 4 of his book.
In chapter 5, he acknowledges that some people might think that some of the psalms, Ecclesiastes, and Job are exceptions to the rule. They express doubt, it might be argued, but the rest of the Bible promotes assurance.
Perhaps, responds Enns, but not assurance about what we believe, but whom we trust.
Enns pleads that he is not opposed to ‘knowing’, but, rather, he is opposed to ‘preoccupation with correct thinking’.
The first mention of ‘belief’ in the Bible comes in Gen 15:6 – Abraham ‘believed the Lord.’ The underlying word here is ‘aman, from which we get ‘amen’. It’s a word of trust. Abraham did not simply believe God’s promise: he put his trust in God. Belief in the form of trust crops up repeatedly in the NT too, as in Mk 9:14-29 and Lk 8:40-56. James makes a key point: believing that God is one is simple – even the demons can do that. We need to replace the cognitive – ‘believing that’ – with the relational ‘trusting in’.
As with ‘belief’, so with ‘faith’. Both have content, but don’t stop at that. Faith is neither knowledge that we possess, nor a feeling that we experience. It’s an entire outlook on life and how we respond to that. ‘Faith’ (pistis) has, in fact, two components – trust and trustworthiness. It is a community word: it includes a commitment to put others before ourselves (see Phil 2:3). Moreover, it also describes what God does: he is faithful (see, for example, Psa 40:10; Rom 8:3; Gal 2:16). So, to be faithful to one another is to be like God. And that’s our goal: not so much to have correct thoughts about God, but to be like him.
As James stresses, a ‘faith’ that revolves around mere notions is not real faith at all. What counts is a working faith (James 2:14-18).
Trust remains when reason fails; when we can’t understand what God is up to, or why he seems to have let us down.
The story of Adam and Eve (Gen 3) shows us what happens ‘when knowing is elevated above trusting’.
But trusting God isn’t just for times when we are desperate: it’s for the whole of life. See Prov 3:5f.
Actually, it can seem simpler to trust God in the difficult times, when we have nothing else to fall back on. We need to learn to do so at all times, including those periods when self-reliance starts to creep in.
And then there’s the teaching of Jesus in Mt 6:25-34. The kind of faith he talks about there is a long way from fact-filled, creed-reciting knowledge. It’s about trusting God so completely that every anxiety flies out of the window. It’s like falling back on Jesus even when we’re not quite sure that he’s there to catch us. Trust means ‘walking the walk when no words are left’.
Some people might indeed think that the Bible does, after all, place some emphasis on what we believe. What about James 1:6-8, where we are urged never to doubt? For one thing, we mustn’t allow such teaching to cancel out the ‘counter-testimony’ of Job, Qohelet and others. But, in any case, James is simply pointing out that, sometimes, we need to trust God completely, and stop doubting him.
But do we not need to be clear about our beliefs, so that we can defend the faith? Look at 1 Peter 3:15. Those to whom that passage was written were, like James’ readers, suffering great persecution. Peter wasn’t telling them to marshal seven arguments for God’s existence, but rather to bear witness to the God in whom they have placed their trust.
It is trust – not correct thinking – that equips us to meet life’s challenges.
I must admit that I was quite convicted by this section. To what extent is my faith restricted to a quest for head-knowledge? How far am I engaged in a whole-life trust in God, that goes way beyond my knowledge and understanding.
But…despite his protestations to the contrary (‘Of course, I’m not denying the importance of knowledge’) the net effect of Enns’ argument so far is to place knowledge and trust in opposition to one another. It is one thing to say that knowledge about God is, by itself, worse than useless (we need to hear that, again and again). It is quite another to give the distinct impression that knowledge actually gets in the way of trust, that personal trust in God makes clinging to certainty in our beliefs about God melt away (see page 112).