Several weeks ago I was asked if there was any chance I would convert to Judaism? How do you answer a question like that? The man asking the question had invited me to a study of Judaism but wanted to make sure that I was open minded enough that he wasn’t wasting his time. I asked him first if he would be willing to convert to Christianity? He said that he would be if he was persuaded that it was true… furthermore he said that when he was a college student in Georgia he had ‘gone to the altar’ after being witnessed to by “Christians who had a gleam in their eye”. When he told his Rabi what he had done, the Rabi did not argue with him but told him that, “he owed it to his people to discover why so many Jews were killed on their refusal to convert to Christianity.” This quest led him to reject the Christian faith and to become an orthodox Rabi. He told me that he had found in his studies that Judaism was very logical whereas Christianity was not based on reason but on experience. However, if it could be proven to him that Judaism was false and that Christianity was true then he would have to convert.
So what about me, he asked? Could I be persuaded to convert to Judaism?
This conversation got me thinking about the nature of faith. If our faith is only a reasoned response to evidence then we should never be fully persuaded of the truth and should always allow for the possibility that we may be wrong. But this is not how faith is defined in Hebrews 11.
Faith is the substance of things hoped and the certainty of what we do not see.
Faith is not a conclusion reasoned from premises. Neither is faith a matter of probability quantified through experimentation and observation. It is not like a scientific theory that is true until it is shown to be false.
At the heart of faith is revelation.
I think revelation is viewed as an inferior way of knowing. Many argue that reliance on revelation places the human mind into a prison of dogmatism. I respectfully disagree. Take one quick glance at the history of philosophy and tell me that human reasoning alone is not utterly futile. This is freedom? And one has to be a blind, deaf and dumb disciple of science to think that some of what we call science today will not meet the same fate as spontaneous generation, Lamarcks’ theory of evolution or the theories of the spheres. Thomas Kuhn has persuasively argued in his book, `The Nature and Structure of Scientific Revolution” that science is prone to seismic shifts as one paradigm is replaced with another. Science is particularly prone to error as it deals with philosophical questions. It is better to take a more humble approach and recognize the distinctions and limitations of each form of knowledge.
Blaise Pascal, the great theologian as well as outstanding scientist, makes some helpful distinctions. Pascal separated knowledge into three orders. These are “the order of nature, the order of mind, and the order of charity.” (Eliot, in. loc) For Pascal it was critical to distinguish between these three orders and to give each its proper place. The order of nature required rigorous experimentation, the order of mind demanded sound reasoning and the order of charity required spiritual understanding and intuition.
Pascal believed that certainty was only possible for those things that belonged to the ‘order of charity’ because they were rooted in God and not in man. Pascal warned that, “reason’s speculation, when cut loose from divine authority, lead people into a junk yard of dead theological platitudes.” (MacKenzie, pg. 41) For Pascal, Gods revelation of himself through Scripture was paramount. This conviction led Pascal to disagree with those philosophers that said that God could be discovered in nature through reason alone. According to Pascal, “It was part of God’s purpose and strategy to give enough light through nature to guide sincere seekers, and enough darkness to keep rebels from being unwillingly bludgeoned into accepting the truth.” (MacKenzie, pg. 91) Natural revelation led genuine seekers to a fuller and more specific revelation of God.
Pascal did not reject reason in matters of faith. He was very interested in the types and prophecies found in the Old Testament, especially as they related to the Jews and to Jesus. He saw in these types and prophecies, proofs that served to confirm the claims made by Jesus to be the Messiah. Pascal even sought to use his mathematical work on probabilities to challenges his readers to consider the repercussions of their decision to believe that God does or does not exist. Pascal said, “You must wager; it is not optional… Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God exists… If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation, that He exists.” (Pascal, Pensees 233)
However, alongside these proofs was a recognition of the limitations of reason. Pascal constantly sought to balance what could be understood by reason with what must simply be recognized as a mystery. “If the truths of Christian religion depended entirely upon reason, it would be stripped of its mysterious and supernatural content. On the other hand, if the principles of reason were offended, then religion became “absurd and ridiculous.”” (Sedgwick, pg. 89)
So how should I answer the Rabi? Can I be persuaded to convert to Judaism?
Well I think it is too late. I have already jumped. Although reason may have led me to the cliff, my leap was a leap of faith based on the conviction that the words of Prophets were fulfilled in Yeshua and that the law is perfected in him. Now that I have jumped, I cannot go back. If a mans wife returns home in the middle of the night and tells him that she was delayed because the car broke down, should he doubt her?
Love… always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
Yeah, I know that is a mystical take on faith but then, as Pascal put it, the heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing. This is knowledge of the first order.
But what do you think?
Pascal, B. Pensees, trans. by A.J. Krailshammer, London: Penguin, 1995
Eliot, T.S., An Introduction to Pensees, by Blaise Pascal, vii-xix, New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., 1958
Krailshammer, A.J., An Introduction to Pensees, by Blaise Pascal, ix-xxx, London: Penguin, 1995
MacKenzie, C. S., Blaise Pascal: Apologist to Skeptics, University Press of America: Lanham, 2008
Sedgwick, Alexander, Jansenism in Seventeenth-Century France: Voices from the Wilderness, The University Press of Virginia, 1977
Oakes, E. T., Pascal, The First Modern Christian. First Things. no95(41) 1999