Did Jesus Demand Blind Faith?

by David Glass

The idea that faith is belief in something for which there is no evidence is very popular. Sometimes the word ‘faith’ is used in that sense, but as we’ve pointed out on this website many times that isn’t the right way to think about faith in the Christian sense. So what is Christian faith and how does it relate to reason and evidence? Christian theologians and philosophers have written a huge amount on this topic, but here I want to look at an aspect of faith in the Gospels.

In the Gospels, Jesus commends people for exercising faith and rebukes others for their lack of faith. For example, in Matthew 8 we read about a centurion who has requested that Jesus heal his servant. The centurion says that Jesus does not need to come to his house since he can heal his servant just by speaking and he explains his reasoning as follows, “For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” Jesus commends him saying, “I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” Later in the same chapter, Jesus is in the boat with his disciples when a storm comes up. With Jesus asleep, the disciples go into a panic, waken him and say, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”, to which Jesus replies, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?”

Why does Jesus rebuke his disciples for their lack of faith? Is he essentially saying, “Even though there is no evidence, you should still trust me”? Hardly! A common theme in the Gospels is that disciples are very slow to grasp who Jesus really is despite all the evidence available to them.  What about the centurion? Is his faith due to a lack of evidence? No, the clear implication is that he knows enough about Jesus’ ministry to understand Jesus’ authority. Based on the evidence available to him, he believes that Jesus can heal his servant just by speaking. The contrast with the disciples could hardly be greater, hence Jesus’ differing responses.

Another example from the Gospels is sometimes taken to support the idea that faith is ‘belief without evidence’: the story of doubting Thomas…

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Did Jesus Demand Blind Faith? – Saints and Sceptics