For many people, believers and non-believers alike, the word “faith” implies a blind leap into the void. Some even take faith as a character flaw, as if “blindness” meant not the inability to see, but the unwillingness to accept the cold, hard facts.
The eminent biologist E. O. Wilson, for example, has been quoted as saying, “Blind faith, no matter how passionately expressed, will not suffice. Science for its part will test relentlessly every assumption about the human condition.” To be fair, Wilson considers himself an agnostic rather than an atheist. But the statement illustrates the relationship that often holds between the denigration of “faith” and the reliance on the empirical.
But what does Paul mean when he says, “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7, NRSV)? Some Christians believe that God will answer their prayers in very specific ways — and they may, of course, be right. God can do anything. But the quality of their belief often has the air of head-shaking, hands-over-the-ears stubbornness about it — I don’t care what anyone else says, I believe! — and I suspect that this is part of what people mean by “blind faith.”
There is a fundamental issue at stake here: is the reality that we can see with our eyes the only reality there is? Admittedly, Paul’s confidence in the face of adversity is rooted in his sure hope of resurrection, something a die-hard empiricist might rule out-of-bounds.
But when Paul says that Christians don’t “walk by sight,” he doesn’t mean that we shut our eyes to physical reality, stop our ears to nay-sayers, and believe whatever we wish as long as it seem pious enough. Faith is not a failure to look, but a looking elsewhere. It’s still based on evidence — but the evidence may not be the kind that is easily measured or replicated in a laboratory setting.
Paul insists, for example, that without the historical event of the resurrection of Jesus, an event confirmed by the eyewitness testimony of hundreds (cf. 1 Cor 15:3-11) and by his own miraculous conversion on the Damascus road, all would be for naught. Nor is it simply a matter of intellectual belief, but the experience of a life transformed, as the Holy Spirit witnesses to our spirit that we have indeed been adopted as God’s children (Rom 8:14-17).
Science should test assumptions about the human condition, and believers have much to learn from such research. We must interact thoughtfully not only with scientific findings, but our own sources of evidence, lest we read into Scripture and personal experience what we merely wish to believe.
But above all, we must remember that learning to see through the eyes of faith happens in the context of a relationship with the God who blesses us with both the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit and, hopefully, the wise and confident presence of a community of faith.
For to see with faithful eyes isn’t blindness: it’s to begin, little by little, to see reality whole.