Faith is a gift from God. It is not simply a conclusion, drawn from evidences. It is not possible to proceed from this or that fact of experience; from this or that conclusion of reason; from this or that historical occurrence - to faith.
It is, nevertheless, the case that faith does normally require such helps from reason. Grace builds on nature; it does not eliminate it.
When, in 1969, I believed in Christ, my faith was as close to a leap as is imaginable. I had evidences. Candace's own conversion was the principle form of evidence. No doubt the vague notions of the history of Christianity that I had absorbed from the culture were another. My own inner sense of the presence both of Christ and of the Devil constituted a third. And, when Bill Arnold, Candace, and I talked together in his father's church early that Sunday morning, some additional questions were answered. Nevertheless, I believed.
I chose to believe. This is, in fact, always true. Faith is a gift to the will of man. We have this or that reason why we think something is true. In the end, mathematical proof is not possible - the possibility of doubt, of error, remains. We decide, 'I will believe.' This is as true of believing in a human sense as it is of theological faith. Regarding theological faith, God responds to our act of will - which is an act of love, of desire of the believed Object - by granting us the gift of faith. And that gift, that faith, is absolute. It does not co-exist with doubt - with questions, certainly, but not with doubt.
By 1984, I had been well-schooled in the school of presuppositionalism. I was a disciple of Cornelius Van Til. The truth of Christianity was the necessary foundation of any thinking at all. To suppose that one could argue from evidences to faith was to place human reason at the foundation of faith. This was, in fact, impossible.
So far, it may be, so good. I think a Catholic version of this could be defended. But a conclusion often drawn by my teachers was that it was an error - indeed, a moral fault - to attempt to seek evidences themselves. One was not allowed to seek for reasons for belief.
It is surely not surprising that a person in the situation in which I found myself in August - perhaps late July - of 1984 might experience what he interpreted as an attack on his faith. We had made a major shift, not only of house, but of culture (and returning to New Zealand after eight years in Yap involved a stunning culture shock). We were experiencing a great deal of stress because of sharing a one-family house with the Jacksons - and it was their house; we were the invaders. Our cost of living in relation to my income was suddenly very high.
Above all, however, was the fact that I was coming to know that I had lied to myself in leaving Yap and in leaving linguistics. I had told myself that we would work for five years in New Zealand, to get the new Pukekohe Reformed Church off the ground. Then I would return to Yap as a Bible translating linguist. This had been the sop I had given to my conscience, to justify my action.
In fact, it is difficult to know why I imagined such a thing to be possible. Even supposing there were some agent willing and able to finance such a project, the slightest amount of thought could have told me that the Reformed Churches of New Zealand would never support any activity that was not Reformed in doctrine and practice. No such operation could have been possible in Yap. A talk with Richard Flinn about such an idea, at just this time, was sufficient to clarify this for me.
I do not know the exact date, but I recall vividly the circumstances, in which the sky fell on me. One afternoon, in late July or early August - mid-winter and very cold - I had gone out of the IAL building where I worked, for a brief break from work. I was standing in the car park. I suddenly realised: there is no God.
There is no God - then, there is ... nothing. Certainly, I - what, in fact, is this 'I'? - I experience this sequence of impressions, this cloud of things I call 'thoughts,' this thing I think of as me. But ... there seemed no possible response to such a state of affairs. I was silenced. What is, just is - and has no more meaning, no content, than if it were not.
I attempted to reason with myself - and ran up against the presuppositionalist command: thou shalt not try to prove God. My clearest thought was this: if, in fact, Christianity is true, then, certainly, all makes sense. The world is meaningful. Suffering may be real, but it is not the last word.
But presupposing the truth of Christianity, although doing so is necessary for the world to make sense, does not make it true. Presuppositionalism may be a form of St Anselm's ontological argument for the existence of God - the idea that the ultimate imperfection of being is non-existence; but God is, by definition, the most perfect being. Thus His non-existence is unthinkable.
Possibly it seems an extreme reaction - to suppose that if God doesn't exist - and at that moment, I simply knew, as I believed, that He did not - then ... then, really, nothing. Nothing followed from anything. Reason, meaning, rationality, existence itself were thrown out. I do not think it was. I find it difficult to imagine how anyone can be an atheist and yet continue to act as though reason, even reality itself, were somehow self-evident.
I stopped talking.
Those who know me will know that such a response is proof of the depth of my dismay. I did not, literally, become mute. I responded in a kind of broken-voiced way to procedural questions. To the now-frequent question from Sue: "What is the trouble? What is worrying you?" the answer was 'Nothing' (with a rather stupid smile). On the inside I was devastated. I continued to go to work. I didn't know how to stop doing the usual things - but I did not know what I was going to do, nor how long I could keep this up.
All this lasted for, perhaps, a week. I had not told Sue what was going on, but it was clear that she knew something was seriously the matter. Finally I could keep quiet no longer (showing that even a major attack on his world won't shut me up indefinitely :-)). I began to talk to her; asked her how we could even know that God existed.
She was deeply distressed. Nevertheless, our talking together itself helped the two of us. After some talk, we decided to talk to Richard Flinn, our pastor. Some event was to happen at Mangere Reformed Church (which shut down in 2009). We went to it and talked with Richard. "How can we know that God exists?"
Poor Richard. His answer - the only one he could give, based on his Van Tillian views, was to say there there were no intellectual problems with faith. Every man who expresses doubts about faith is, in fact, using them as a smoke screen. He does not believe the faith because he does not want to. He is trying to hide from God. The reason for perceived doubts about faith was secret sin.
One might have supposed this sort of answer would have driven me farther into despair. I cannot say it did - perhaps, in great part, because it was Sue and I who asked it together.
I recall very well, in any case, what I did. In a day or so, I decided to do what Puddleglum does in The Silver Chair. Challenged by the Green Lady to prove that there is any world outside Underland, they cannot do so. Puddleglum says that if the only real world is this horrid one of Underland; if the sun and the wind and trees do not exist; then it is strange that their imaginary world is clearly vastly superior to this real world of Underland - and he refuses to doubt the world above - a version, again, I suppose, of the ontological argument.
I decided, one day, not long after talking to Richard, that, if I was not able to believe in God, that, nonetheless, I would refuse to act in any way than that of a man of faith. If I could not believe in God, I would act as though God were real. I would not only act so externally; I would think so internally. I rejected - and with an inward violence that I recall to this day - a world of meaningless, irrational, empty sense experience.
I do not know precisely when I realised - rather suddenly - that I had stopped worrying about the whole issue. I suddenly realised that I didn't know why I had ever thought I did not believe in God.
This was the worst experienced of my life to that point - to be matched only by June, 1994 - almost exactly ten years later - when I thought God hated me. Then, also, it was an act of the will that saved me. It was only reading Ronald Knox, and his summary of St Thomas Aquinas's Five Ways, that I had answers to my questions. At that time I reflected, also, on Hebrews 11:6: "... he who comes to God must believe that He is..." - August, 1984 - "... and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.' - July, 1994.
Richard was not to be faulted for his answer. He had established us in Pukekohe. He was our pastor for approximately the next three and a half years.