The Faith of the Centurion
5 When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. 6 “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”
7 Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”
8 The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
10 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. 11 I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment.
The Gospel of Matthew is probably my favorite book of the Bible. I’ve read it at least 20 times. When I was a young believer, I had the good fortune to go to a large weekend conference where I attended a workshop on some subject or another related to evangelism. I’ve long since forgotten the subject of that workshop, to be honest, but I remember speaking with one guy there who said, “If you want to introduce someone to Jesus, you should start with Matthew, because that book has the most red in it.” He meant that Matthew has more instances of Jesus speaking than any of the other Gospels, so it’s a good book to put together a picture of Jesus’ character.
I’ve since concluded that the best way to introduce someone to Jesus is actually to just act like him, but I still think Matthew is a great place to start for a Christian hoping to be more like Christ.
The passage that I’ve pulled out at the top of this post illustrates how Jesus described the virtue of faith. The centurion came to Jesus asking him to heal an ill servant, and Jesus was ready to rush to the centurion’s home. The centurion explained that Jesus’ physical presence wouldn’t be necessary, because he understood how authority works. You tell someone under your command to do something, and they do it, regardless of whether you’re watching. The centurion reasoned that because Jesus had been performing miraculous healings he had authority over the world in a way that allowed him to cure ailments by simply saying that they were cured. The centurion had never observed this characteristic of Jesus’ power, but he believed it was so, and Jesus commended the centurion for his faith.
I love this account, because it shows that there is a direct connection between reason and faith. The modern popular understanding of faith typically follows a model of belief without evidence. It’s best exemplified in the famous scene from Peter Pan when Peter asks the audience to clap and cheer to show they believe in fairies in order to revive Tinkerbell. We know there’s no evidence for fairies, but here we call it faith to believe in them anyway, hence the common accusation that people of faith believe in a magical sky wizard.
I can’t express how frustrated I am by the popular definition of faith.
C.S. Lewis has an excellent illustration of how reason-based faith works in the real world. In Mere Christianity, he discusses the concept of anesthetic. We all know based on evidence that anesthetic is effective and when used properly will keep you safely unconscious while a surgeon has to operate on you. Even if you’ve never had surgery, you believe this is true. When you actually find yourself under the knife, you may panic initially. What if the anesthetic doesn’t knock me out? What if I wake up in the middle of the surgery (by the way, that happened to me when I was five and busted up my knee; I only remember being conscious for a few seconds, but I recall it being very horrifying. Fortunately, they put me back under quickly)? These thoughts race through your head and you doubt, but your reason bolsters your faith that the anesthetic will do its job.
Critics of faith in God like to point out that this is still magical thinking, because there’s no scientific evidence supporting the existence of God. I say that’s true. God is by definition a supernatural being, and because science, in order to better understand the physical world, dismisses supernatural causes it cannot produce any evidence for God’s existence. At the same time, it can’t produce any evidence against his existence either, so I think we should all agree that scientific thought is an unproductive avenue for discerning God’s presence.
For me, my belief in God’s existence is predicated on my adherence to a metaphysical framework that acknowledges the possibility of a supernatural force outside the universe. That framework is supported by my understanding of moral principals that humanity generally holds up as ideal.
My faith is based in reason, and though I do not see God, I believe he is there.
What about you guys? What’s the foundation of your belief or nonbelief?