The Difference Between Faith And Denial

faith(H/T Diogo Martins, Flickr Creative Commons)
 

I remember watching the first plane hit those Towers not so long ago.

“It had to be an accident,” I thought to myself.

But then another plane hit another Tower and I knew it had to be something worse, something far more nefarious.

As I watched the towers burn and worried about the people trapped inside, I couldn’t keep my mind from wandering and wondering about how they would one day go about repairing the damage that loomed so high up in the sky.

And then the first tower fell.

As I stood there speechless and heartbroken over the lives that had been snuffed out, my mind began to wander again and I started to imagine a New York skyline that was missing one of its Twins.

And then the unimaginable happen.

The second tower fell.

I remember thinking to myself, “How could that have just happened? How could those two mighty towers be razed to the ground by two metal birds?”

It just didn’t make sense.

The damage seemed too minimal, the hole too high to topple, the fall too neat.

And so my mind began to wander once more.

But this time I wasn’t alone with my thoughts.

That morning in September gave birth to an entire movement of people who believe that they know the real truth. They know there was a cover-up. They know the government was involved. They know planes can’t take down buildings by themselves. And they know buildings just don’t fall straight down on their own.

In those first few frightening months after 9/11 it was hard not to think that maybe those folks were right.

Maybe there was more to the story.

After all, I’m not a structural engineer. I don’t really know what causes buildings to collapse or how they fall when there’s a structural failure.

So, I decided to turn to the experts for answers. People who spend their entire lives studying and researching this sort of thing. People who know a heck of a lot more than me about physics and the science of building stuff. People whom God has gifted with wisdom in these sorts of matters.

As it turns out, the damage wasn’t too minimal, the hole wasn’t too high, and the fall really wasn’t that neat at all.

Unfortunately, even though the folks at Popular Mechanics and countless others did a thorough job of utterly debunking the claims of 9/11 Truthers, that did little to persuade the conspiracy theorists to abandon their quixotic quest.

They were committed deniers and no amount of facts, nor the glaring light of common sense would dissuade them from what they knew to be true.

Of course, they’re not alone on the island of denial.

Despite overwhelming evidence and hard science, countless people still deny that Oswald killed Kennedy or that NASA landed on the moon or that climate change is real.

From the ridiculous (the earth is flat) to the horrendous (the holocaust never happened), the world is filled with folks who, for whatever reason, simply refuse to accept the truth.

And that includes the church.

Sadly, the church is filled with deniers of all stripes.

From the rejection of evolution to the embrace of biblical inerrancy, we seem to be convinced that denying history, science, and the obvious is some sort of spiritual gift.

It is not.

Of course, some will claim that faith itself is simply denial (particularly faith in God), but I think there are critical differences between the two that all of us, but especially those of us in the church, would do well to remember.

For example.

Faith embraces the reality of the world even as it casts its gaze beyond to something deeper, while denial rejects the provable as it attempts to cast willful ignorance as some sort of noble virtue in the face of persecution.

But there is no virtue in denial.

Nothing noble about choosing naiveté over expertise.

Nothing holy about denying the obvious in the name of faith.

You see, the irony here is that faith isn’t blind.

But denial is.

Faith accepts the expertise of others, while trying to make sense of what they reveal in light of what lies beyond the here and now. Denial is enslaved to its own arrogance and willfully blinds itself to the truth, intentionally rejecting anything and everything that doesn’t conform to its already predetermined conclusions.

Which leads us to another important difference between faith and denial.

Faith makes room for doubt, but denial does not.

In fact, denial goes out of its way to shame those who lack surety or, worse, those who disagree.

Armed with the confidence that it already knows the truth, denial has no tolerance for doubt and no ability to admit even the possibility of being wrong. No amount of scientific evidence, historical discovery, or scholarly insight will ever make a difference to those who have chosen denial in pursuit of blind ideology.

Which leads us to our final fundamental difference between faith and denial.

Faith begins and ends at a place of humility, while denial begins and ends at a place of arrogance, assuming it already has every answer to every possible question that can ever be asked.

A strong faith can admit, not only that it doesn’t know everything, but that it can actually be wrong from time to time. It certainly possesses confidence in the things it believes, but it lacks the sort of arrogant stubbornness of denial that refuses to change even when the Spirit moves and opens our eyes to new truths about the world we live in and the people in it.

Humility gives faith the flexibility it needs to imagine a new and better world for all.

Without that humility, the rigidity of denial only ever wrecks the world and the lives of those living in it.

Which is why when we live in denial about things like the reality of evolution, the truth that gay folks don’t choose to be gay, or the fact that the Bible isn’t perfect, we do no favors for the church.

In fact, we stand in the way of the gospel.

When we live in denial of reality, we’re not standing boldly like a city on a hill proclaiming the truth to all.

We’re standing like a fool on an island flipping the bird to the rest of the world.
 

11 Comments
  • Trent DeJong
    October 10, 2014

    Was it Ann Lamott who said, “the opposite of faith isn’t doubt, it’s certainty”?

  • Don Lowery
    October 10, 2014

    we seem to be convinced that denying history, science, and the obvious is some sort of spiritual gift.

    This is until they get a deadly disease or something tragic happens which shakes the foundation of their house built on sand that they demand the science they deny find them a cure/answer so that they can continue living to deny the truth of what allowed them to live.

  • Jason
    October 10, 2014

    I’m currently having a discussion with a conservative family member over a FB post I made: “Children aren’t afraid of big, difficult questions. Adults are. Adults
    often seek certainty. Maybe when Jesus said to have faith as children
    this is what he meant. Don’t be afraid to question.”

    This post fits in perfectly, and says what I’m trying to get at a LOT better than I can.

  • Michael P
    October 10, 2014

    Evolution doesn’t make sense to me as I am sure creationism doesn’t make sense to evolutionists. However the denial of PROVEN science is just asinine.

    The Bible was written by man showcasing mans fallacy and its need for God. Which reveals mans errors but at the same time reveals the character of God throughout it.

    Jason – My 4YO daughter was asking where God was the other day and why couldn’t we see him. There is nothing that can make you feel more inadequate than explaining who God is to a 4YO. Every answer is followed by ‘why’ or a blank stare that says, ‘try again.’

  • Stephen Amayo
    October 10, 2014

    I really enjoyed this article and if i’m being honest i think I’ve been a denier at times. But like Michael P said, evolution doesn’t make sense, but maybe neither view has it correct as of yet. I would just like to say (for saying sake) that the idea of a incorrect Bible is pretty deep. I’m not to sure I can get on board with this idea. I can get on board with the mental thought process to think that mans interpretation over the centuries and all the sects of Christianity that have rose from such interpretations seem to (obliviously) inaccurate. Man will fail this is a reality of life. But this is God’s Diary we’re speaking about. I whole heartily understand I will always have my Irish Mother’s born-again understanding of the Christian faith and I don’t have a desire to flee from it, however I have recently started to follow your blog Mr. Hunt due to a desire to read something other than my “default” beliefs spit back to me that I’ve been raised with. And out of all the blogs I’ve started following (Redemption Pictures, Red Letter Christian, & Mercy Not Sacrifice) yours is the most intriguing to me. Thank You and keep on keeping on!!! God Bless!!!

  • Alice
    October 10, 2014

    After a failed marriage that I was fully convinced was “arranged by God” (and thus I needn’t worry about the hints of abusive behavior as early as our engagement), I can’t like this article enough. There was a too-long period of my life when I thought I was putting my faith in God, but in reality I was putting my faith in doctrines, culture, and expectations built around a God who is way bigger and harder to pin down than we give him credit for. Since doctrines, culture, and expectations aren’t really that sturdy, one can only maintain that kind of faith through denial. Shaking this off and going after faith that is comfortable with doubt and skepticism (as God is, many times, throughout the Bible) has been nothing short of life-changing.

  • Just Thinking
    October 12, 2014

    Fun
    stuff…is there room here for a “flat earth” evangelical rube? I
    promise to be polite and courteous but I have been told that at times I get a
    tad bit snarky?…just Googled “Christian Blogs” to get a sense of
    what “born again” Christian individuals are thinking and talking
    about these days..kinda wondering if I made a wrong turn? I had to double check
    the title since it sounds an awful lot like I just plunked my fanny down in my
    Philosophy, Geography, and Lit classes back at one of the many Universities I attended
    long before you were….anywhere. So to hear that which my Profs were saying in
    1979 is a little stunning 35 years later coming from an Elder in the
    Church….I felt that men like Walter Martin and even Jay Seegert have
    meticulously and scientifically dismantled evolution and graciously handed it
    back to Academia.

    I personally
    put a final fork in evolution 30 years ago when one of my best friends
    graduated from the University of Kentucky and was hired by a major
    pharmaceutical company here in the Midwest. When getting oriented by one of the
    Phds, my friend asked about evolution and if most of the scientists there
    believed in it. To my friend’s surprise the Phd said “no one here believes
    in evolution…you can’t and still work here in research…evolution
    contradicts what we do every day here in the lab”. My stunned buddy then
    riffled back “then why did all my Profs in college keep beating that stupid
    idea”? The Phd shrugged his shoulders and said “I don’t get it why
    educators and academics get off on it cause no one out here in the trenches
    doing chemistry each day can”.

    So
    between hearing my friend and reading some of Walter Martin’s and John
    Whitcomb’s work I pretty much abandoned any possibility of that which all my
    Profs seemed to try so hard to intimidate us was true; however, I have to say
    to study both sides was very humbling.

    I finally
    learned it was nothing more than what Paul called a “strong hold” which
    he said we should pull down unless one has drank a snoot full of Bart’s Cool-aid
    that “theorizes” that ancient writers of scripture were such unsophisticated
    morons that they “probably” miss communicated most everything within
    the first few copies of scripture unbeknownst to any of the elders and Teachers
    in the Church and systematically jumbled the meaning of scripture into the
    questionable mess that it is in today….possibly another “strong
    hold”?

    I have
    found that if one immerses himself excessively into the extremely sheltered
    world where information is “controlled”
    one can get some very narrow opinions (like the folklore usually foisted upon
    us with mockery and derision in their voices by some dear brothers in the reformed
    camp that love to announce that a pre-trib rapture was an invention of Darby in
    the 19th century (they do that to you also?) when Victorinus
    (late 3rd and died in the early 4th century), Ephraem of Nisibis (4th century), Joseph
    Mede (17th century), and of course Harvard’s first President Increase Mather
    (1639-1723) all taught about a gathering of the saints prior to the end
    violence but it seems the reformed gang wants to take a very selective route
    through history in order to build their case…kinda disingenuous don’t ya
    think?. But
    don’t they come off so confident and passionate?

    I could
    hear myself in your statement of feeling that what Christians think about
    various subjects could affect the Gospel going out clear and with power. When I
    was young in the faith and after reading Hybels as if it were the Torah I too
    developed a hypersensitivity to thinking if people came to visit the church I
    was a Deacon of and they weren’t comfortable with the way I dressed or if the
    music we were playing made them yawn that God certainly couldn’t break through
    and save that individual…wow was I wrong and boy did I have a puny American
    god who I thought I could “help” with what I wore for an hour and a
    half each week.

    So I
    wouldn’t be concerned if some of us hicks appear to be preventing the Holy
    Spirit from having the power required to convict them of their sinfulness
    before a Holy God and to provide them with the faith to save them from their
    sins if they wander into your church…as I study His Word and see His loving
    and strong hand on myself and my family I realize just how good He is…and it
    is all about Him isn’t it? wow 3:45 AM…man was that fun (for at least one of
    us)!

    • Michael P
      October 12, 2014

      I wish I knew who you were, so that I could hang out with you and get coffee. This, even at 3:45, is a very thoughtful comment. Just to sit and discuss and mull over topics would be nice.

      MP – Nashville, TN

  • Tim
    October 13, 2014

    This article reminds me of a quote I came across some years ago by the Greek Stoic philosopher, Epictetus; “What is the first business of one who practices philosophy? To get rid of self-conceit. For it is impossible for anyone to begin to learn that which he thinks he already knows.”
    Book II, ch. 17.

  • sharmla
    May 13, 2016

    What nonsense written by Zack Hunt….total ignorance about faith. Close your eyes and ask God for revelation

  • Phoebe
    July 5, 2016

    Your faith in evolution is completely a denial of creation. It’s very captain obvious that we were created, so, sorry Zack… You’re in denial. People who have zero foundation for right and wrong make up their own, based on their “instincts”. Great. Make wickedness a human right and watch what happens. I say you’re in denial of the Truth, and you say I’m in denial. Only you’re using flawed human intellect. So I win 🙂

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