Knowing and Believing

Unless I see…I will not believe.

Blessed are those who have not seen yet believe.

The fig trees are budding
The vines are in blossom
How delicious they smell
Rise up my love, my beautiful one
Come with me
Song of Songs

People are often confused about knowing and believing.

The atheist and agnostic will say to the believer, “You don’t know there is a God, you believe there is a God” — as if that were, aha, gotcha!

Believers (yes, they are called believers, not knowers) often try to up the ante by saying something like, “I don’t believe, I know!”

There is some confusion going on here.

Let’s see if we can make some sense of it

Let me get three things out of the way right from the beginning:

1. I don’t know God is — I believe God is.

2. Faith is a different epistemology (way of knowing) than empiricism (a theory that all knowledge must be based in the physical senses).

3. Faith is not an inferior way of knowing, it is a different way of knowing.

An illustration may be helpful.

Imagine that some people, for whatever reason, lacked the sense of smell. They can see, hear, feel and taste, but they cannot smell. And imagine there arose a controversy between those who could smell and those who could not. A controversy between those who claimed that by this fifth sense they could “smell” fragrances and those who denied the existence of fragrance. We might call them smellers and asmellers.

Smellers might go on and on about the wonderful fragrance of a rose while asmellers called it all nonsense.

Asmellers might say something like, “You say there’s a fragrance, but I’ve never seen it or heard it or felt it or tasted it. If there were such a thing as a fragrance we would be able to know it by sight, hearing, feel or taste, therefore we know fragrance doesn’t exist.”

Do you see the problem? Fragrance does not reveal(!) itself to sight, hearing, feel or taste, but to smell. If a person says, “I will not believe in fragrance unless I see it”, they have placed themselves in a place where it will be impossible to experience fragrance. Their demand is a logical problem. They have denied the existence of fragrance by out of hand eliminating the only means of experiencing fragrance.

But there is another side to the story. Perhaps smellers become a bit intimidated by asmellers or perhaps some smellers don’t really trust their nose after all, so they begin to say things like, “I don’t smell fragrance, I hear fragrance.” Silly, isn’t it? Fragrance doesn’t reveal itself to hearing but to smell, so when someone says they don’t just smell the perfume, they hear the perfume, you begin to wonder if they understand what they’re talking about.

God is not an object in the Universe. You don’t know God is — that is you don’t see, hear, feel, taste or touch God — you believe God is. God reveals himself to faith, not empiricism. To think that believing God is, is somehow “weaker” than knowing God, is like saying, “I don’t smell the fragrance, I hear the fragrance.”

Faith is the receptor of revelation as the smell is the receptor of fragrance.

But there is something else.

When I say, God is not an object within the universe, that is true. But then there is the…

Incarnation. (Merry Christmas.)

A claim regarding Jesus of Nazareth verified by his…

Resurrection. (Happy Easter.)

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead can be known as much as any historical event can be known. Faith and knowledge mingle at this point.

And if you are prone to say something like, “We know scientifically that the dead are not raised”, I will say two things: 1) How do we know this? 2) We are dealing with history and not science. Science studies the repeatable and history studies the unrepeatable. In a historical examination of the events surrounding the empty tomb of Easter, no one is claiming that this event is unremarkable or inconsequential, but simply that the claim of reliable witnesses that Jesus rose from the dead is the most historically credible. If you insist on seeing the resurrection of Jesus for yourself before you believe it, than I suppose you don’t believe that Hannibal and his elephants crossed the Alps either; or, for that matter, any other historical event that you were not an eye witness to.

Well, that went a bit off topic, but my head is headed toward Easter.

I believe.
I walk by faith.
I live by faith.
I believe.

And when my head doubts (the residency of empirical doubt) — I still believe.

“The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.” -Blaise Pascal

You might as well say, the nose has its reasons of which the ear knows nothing.

Smell the roses.
Smell the coffee.
Believe God.

Brian Zahnd
Lucknow, India


The view from our room in Lucknow.