Now that we’ve looked at the external benefits of being reasonable, we must explore why it is important internally for one’s spiritual development. For this, I’m going to start with a bold claim – one which would not be controversial were it not for translation problems and for the divide that modernism has constructed between reason and faith. The claim is this: you cannot fully know God without understanding reason. That’s not to say that all Christians should be given a course in deductive logic, nor that you can’t understand God if you’re being illogical (God’s love is, perhaps, the most irrational thing known to mankind). Rather, I argue that reason is one of the fundamental parts of God’s nature that we need to comprehend if we hope to understand Him.
To clarify a bit, it will be helpful to define some of the terms I’m using. Hebrews 11 tells us that “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” This is illuminating, but still requires some elaboration. By faith, I mean trust based upon evidence but without the complete “sight” of deductive proof. Reason, then, is not entirely opposed to faith but works with in conjunction with it. However, I would like to make a distinction between reason and pure logic – the former being of utmost importance and the latter often lacking significance. Whereas I conceive of reason as being natural wisdom, pure logic is an artificially refined and removed from the realities of life. We need reason to know that 2+2=4, but we do not need set theory to do basic math.
Furthermore, pure logic is incapable of proving itself a valid form of finding truth. One could not go about proving that logic is true illogically. Yet self-justification is generally unpersuasive; we rely on other reasons to support our dependence on logic, namely because our intuitions support it. We have faith in those intuitions. G.K. Chesterton put it best when he said: “It is idle to talk always of the alternative of reason and faith. Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all.”
Reason without faith cannot stand. Faith without reason is foolish. A man without faith cannot know God, and a man without reason cannot understand His true nature. Why is reason so elemental to God’s character? The Scriptures explain.
John 1:1 says “θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος” and is normally translated as “the Word was God.” One of the major problems with translations is figuring out what to do when a word in one language doesn’t correspond to a single word in the other language. This is the case with the Greek λόγος – logos. λόγος possesses much more meaning in the Greek than can be captured in the English “word.” Although Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance uses “a word, the word” as the primary definition of λόγος, it continues with other meanings: “something said (including the thought); by implication, a topic (subject of discourse), also reasoning (the mental faculty) or motive; by extension, a computation; specially, (with the article in John) the Divine Expression (i.e. Christ).”
David W. Bercot explains the significance of this meaning:
“When John writes that Jesus was the Logos of God, most of his readers probably understood him to say that Jesus is the Reason of God. In other words, Jesus is the embodiment of God’s all-pervasive, rational power. The early Christian recognized that God is the source of all reason and knowledge. So they believed that any reasonable person would want to serve the Reason (Logos) of God.”
Yet today the common consensus seems to be that the most rational people will reject God’s existence whereas Christians merely rely on faith in illogical ideas. This runs contrary to the conceptions of early Christians like Justin Martyr, who believed that “God begot before all creatures a Beginning, [who was] a certain rational power [proceeding] from Himself, who is called by the Holy Spirit, now the Glory of the Lord, now the Son, again Wisdom, again an Angel, then God, and then Lord and Logos;”
What does it mean to say that Jesus is the embodiment of God’s rational power? John Campbell gives an explanation of John and the philosophic thought which led up to the writing of the Fourth Gospel:
“In the Prologue of the Gospel of John… the Logos is an eternal divine Person, through whom in the beginning everything was made, and he is identified with the eternal Son of God who became incarnate as Jesus Christ. The evangelist seems to assume that his readers are familiar with this conception of the personal, divine Logos, a conception which is of Greek origin. The word logos meant both “word” and the thought or reason which is expressed in words. Greek philosophers, believing that the universe is essentially rational, used the term logos to denote the rational principle by which it is sustained. Jewish thinkers (probably influenced by Greek philosophy) reached a very similar conception of the divine ‘Wisdom,’ cf. Proverbs 8, especially verses 22-31, where the personification of Wisdom is more than merely a literary device. Later, Jewish thinkers writing in Greek combined the two conceptions, using by preference the term logos.”
This analysis seems accurate when we look at Philo who writes, “For the Logos of the living God being the bond of every thing, as has been said before, holds all things together, and binds all the parts, and prevents them from being loosened or separated.” It may seem strange that Logos, which can denote words or speech, would be described as holding the universe together. Yet when we look at Genesis 1, there is one oft-repeated phrase used to describe creation: “God said.” Logos serves surprisingly well to capture the dual nature of creation: rational power binding together the universe and speech resonating with wisdom.
John 1:14 is slightly more confusing when it says “The Word (Logos) became flesh.” The most obvious interpretation this to mean that the logos was Christ – that Christ was the divine incarnation of God’s Word. This fits in perfectly with what Paul says in Colossians 1:17, “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
Logos, then, is the force permeating throughout all creation. Despite all of our scientific theories, we cannot explain how the basic forces like gravity and electromagnetism really work. We know that they do work and we know at what rates they work, but we are incapable of explaining why they behave precisely as they do. There is no clear explanation for why they shouldn’t operate in different ways besides the fact that they simply don’t. The only reason that I can think of is God – logos – “for from him and through him and to him are all things” (Romans 11:36). He laid the earth’s foundation and marked off its dimensions. He bound the beautiful Plieades and hung the cords of Orion. He knows the laws of the heavens and established His dominion over the earth (Job 38). This is the essential reason that is and is used by God.
Why, then, do people perceive such a contradiction between reason and faith? The division is denied by those who understand the true relationship between them, by those who recognize that both are gifts from God. Although I’m not Catholic, I respect what Pope John Paul II wrote in his own examination of this subject in the encyclical Fides et Ratio: “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself.” God has given us rational minds which lead us to the truth in order to know Him better. Man would not be capable of reason were it not for God’s guiding power. As C.S. Lewis put it, “We love and reason because God loves and reasons and holds our hand while we do it.” The Lord Himself asks in Job 38:36, “Who endowed the heart with wisdom or gave understanding to the mind?” The answer is God. To deny the wisdom and understanding of reason is to deny the very gift that God has given man.
Logic is not perfect: sometimes it leads us into paradoxes and puzzles which appear unresolvable. Yet there is a fine distinction between a statement being completely logical and completely rational. For example, there is no logical error in acknowledging that we cannot disprove the possibility that we are merely brains in vats. Yet most people would deem actually believing that we are brains in vats to be unreasonable. Common sense opposes such the brain-in-a-vat hypothesis and living as though such an idea is true would be foolhardy at best. When I write of reason, I am referring to rational common sense, not to the erudite logic that can trip up the best of men. Plain reason – common wisdom – “is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her” (Proverbs 3:13).
None of this is to say that we should rely on reason alone to know God. We shouldn’t forget the promise of John 8:31-32, that we shall know the truth if we follow Christ’s teachings. 1 John 4:8 tells us, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” If we love each other deeply and are obedient to the commands of the Lord, we shall certainly have a good understanding of Him. As George MacDonald wrote, “it is to the man who is trying to live, to the man who is obedient to the word of the Master, that the word of the Master unfolds itself.”
Reason alone cannot move us to love our enemies as ourselves, nor compel us to hold to the highest standards of purity. It will not force us to forgive those who have wronged us, nor require us to sacrifice our own wealth for those in need. Only living out Christ’s teachings can reveal to us the beauty behind them. Otherwise, our deceitful hearts will be corrupted and hardened by sin, blinding us to the divine Reason that motivates the Lord’s commands. Any attempts to Reason about God’s character which are not accompanied by following Christ’s teachings are worthless. As J.I. Packer wrote, “a little knowledge of God is worth more than a great deal of knowledge about Him.
Yet there is still something to be said for gaining knowledge about God. Obviously, there is a reason all of us are here, writing weekly blog posts and publishing our opinions. Two millenia of theologians did not write prolifically for naught. Reason is one of our best ways to gain knowledge of God. We must reason our way through confusing Scriptures and reason what significance they have in a world two thousand years later which despite its striking similarities has evolved in many unexpected ways. We rely on reason where God’s other gifts do not work; combining it with Scripture and tradition and experience to come to a greater understanding of our relationship to Him.
There are many aspects of God and we will not fully appreciate His perfection until we comprehend his complete character, including love, justice, grace, hope, faith, and reason.