The Perils of Blind Faith

Washington Allston, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Synopsis: Jesus never condoned blind faith. He advised people to believe in him based upon the evidence of his works. When Jesus is accused of being demon-possessed by both the religious leaders and his own family, he warns us of the perils of making such quick black-and-white judgments.

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Scripture Reading: Mark 3: 20-35

Steven Sample, the former president of the University of Southern California, wrote a book called The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership. In his book, he writes about a critical skill leaders must possess in order to make good judgments: thinking gray. Thinking grey is an uncommon characteristic because it requires a lot of effort to develop. But it is one of the most important leadership skills.

Most people immediately label things as good or bad, true or false, black or white, friend or foe. But an effective leader must be able to see the shades of gray in a situation in order to make wise decisions. The essence of thinking gray is to not form a judgement about an important matter until you’ve heard all the relevant facts.

There are many who believe that blind faith is what we are called to as Christians. Therefore, they make quick black-and-white judgments without having sought out the facts and often solely based on what they believe the Bible says. In our scripture reading for today, the perils of blind faith are not only put on display, but also Jesus gives us a very clear warning about making such quick judgments.

Of the four gospels, Mark’s is the most chronological – meaning that the stories about Jesus’ life are told in the order that they actually occurred. Mark’s gospel is also action-packed, especially around the actions of Jesus, the servant.

Here is what has happened in Jesus’ life up to our scripture reading. First, he was baptized by John, and he began his ministry in Galilee. He called his first four disciples: two sets of brothers – Simon and Andrew and James and John.

Next, Jesus began to teach in the synagogue at Capernaum, which would become his home base in Galilee. People were amazed at the authority with which Jesus not only taught the Scriptures but also cast out demons. He performed many other healing miracles: healing Peter’s mom, a man with leprosy, and a paralyzed man.

Jesus then ate with the tax collector Matthew, whom he called to be his disciple. That’s when the religious leaders started asking questions. They asked why he was eating with sinners, why his disciples were not fasting with John’s disciples and the Pharisees, and why he and his disciples were picking and eating wheat on the Sabbath.

News about Jesus’ healing abilities spread so quickly throughout the region of Galilee that soon, huge crowds of people were coming to him for Torah education and healing. It was so crazy that he had to go up a mountainside to escape from people so that he could call the rest of his disciples.

And that brings us to our scripture reading for today. Jesus and his disciples come down from the mountainside and enter a house. The crowd quickly grows, and Jesus is so busy teaching and healing that he doesn’t take the time to eat. He came to serve humanity – and serve he did – with a level of commitment that no one had ever seen before.

So, Jesus’ family shows up to “take charge of him.” They are basically staging an intervention because as far as they are concerned, he’s out of his mind, and they need to take care of him until he regains his sanity. Maybe they thought, “Who does he think he is? The Messiah?”

Granted, there are people even today who suffer from delusions of grandeur, who think that they are the savior of the world, but that wasn’t Jesus’ problem. Perhaps he was temporarily ignoring his need for food to take care of others, but that didn’t mean he was insane.

So, Jesus’ own family is accusing him of being demon-possessed because they don’t understand his behavior. Back in those days, people didn’t have an understanding of mental illness like we do today. If someone was acting out-of-the-ordinary, people assumed the cause was demons, and Jesus certainly was not acting like a normal person.

Jesus was not like most human beings in those days – or even today. Yes, he was a human being just like us, but he was also enlightened. I believe he was born enlightened, and the temptation in the wilderness failed to cause him to fall into identification with the personal self and the mind of me.

He was operating from his Self (with a capital S) and the Mind of Christ, but the personal self and the mind of me in everyone else saw what he was doing and said, “He’s insane!” The truth was that he was perfectly sane. When people came to him with needs that he could take care of, he took care of them. That’s a perfectly rational thing to do, isn’t it?

The Jewish people have always believed service to others to be a key component of their faith, but Jesus was going way too far in their judgment. All he was doing was demonstrating what it really means to be of service, and they didn’t like it – especially the religious leaders.

He was making them look bad, so they said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” Jesus immediately called them on the silliness of that conclusion. What possible advantage would the devil gain in giving Jesus the authority to cast out his minions? Jesus explains that it must be God who is giving him the power to tie up the strongman (or the devil) and drive out the evil influences within the minds of the afflicted.

Jesus never condoned blind faith. In fact, in John chapter 10, when the religious leaders were attempting to arrest him for blasphemy for claiming to be God’s Son, he said in verses 37-38, “If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I am in the Father.”

He’s saying, “Fine – don’t just take my word for it when I say, ‘I am the Son of God.’ Look at the evidence. Look at the works I have done. What do they tell you?”

The Pharisees had a “spiritual scientific method” – so to speak. When Jesus visited the Pharisee Nicodemus in John chapter 3, Nicodemus said to Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Nicodemus had applied the spiritual scientific method of the Pharisees and came to this logical conclusion.

Along with the Mind and Christ and the Mind of Me, we also have another type of mind: the rational mind. This is our intelligence. We use the rational mind for reasoning, problem-solving, learning, and planning. If you are working on solving a math problem or putting together a recipe, for example, you are using your rational mind.

Why would God give us a rational mind and then forbid us to use it? We’re not supposed to leave our intelligence at home when we come to church on Sunday morning. Yet this is what some Christian denominations expect. That is not faith. Faith isn’t about our belief in specific doctrines or stances on political or social issues. Our faith may inform our decisions about these things, but they are not what faith is all about.

Faith is simply our beliefs about God. Do you truly believe he loves us? That he can be trusted? That he has your best interests at heart? If you say “Yes” to those questions, then you have faith, but you didn’t come to that faith blindly, did you? God must have proven it to you through his works in your life.

What did Jesus mean when he said verses 28-29, “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.”

I believe that he is warning us about one of the perils of blind faith. When we refuse to change our minds when the evidence to the contrary is clear, then we are choosing to be blind, and that can cause us to misjudge a person or event that might be coming from God. 

Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit and following its promptings, so for anyone to say that he had an “unclean spirit” was to call the Holy Spirit “unclean,” which is, of course, blasphemy. People tend to call “evil” what they don’t understand – or don’t want to.

I recently had a Facebook discussion with a high school friend who happens to be an evangelical Christian. She posted something about how the United States needs to return to God instead of overlooking sin. She listed certain issues, including the greater societal acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender identities.

What she sees as evil, I see as the Holy Spirit working to open the hearts of humanity. We can certainly have our opinions about things, but we have to be careful who and what we judge to be “evil.” First, we must never judge a person to be “evil” no matter what they do. That is blasphemy. Every person has a spark of the divine within them, part of the image of God, so to judge them evil is to judge God evil.

Behavior can be evil, but the most important indicator of whether a behavior is truly evil is the motivation behind the act. We often don’t know for sure what people’s motives are when they behave in certain ways. We can only guess, and we love to do that. We love to make assumptions, but the truth is we can’t be certain. Only God can look inside people’s hearts and know for certain.

So, we need to be careful what we call “evil.” We need to be absolutely certain, and there’s not much we can be that certain about. Life is not so black and white; much is grey. It is complicated and messy.

God created life to be challenging and unpredictable, but he didn’t design it that way to make it dangerous; he designed it that way to make it fun. Yes, our spiritual growth is supposed to be fun.

So … why isn’t it more fun?

Because the mind of me doesn’t like life as God created it. It has a problem with not knowing exactly what’s going on and what’s going to happen because it views life as a threat. Remember that the mind of me is the part of the mind where our identification with the personal self resides. It holds and maintains the false programming that causes us to experience ourselves as separate. It’s also where all our worries about our life come from.

When it comes to not understanding something or not knowing something, the mind of me will jump to a conclusion as quickly as possible to get rid of the discomfort of not knowing, and then it will hang onto that conclusion no matter what evidence it is presented with that might clearly prove it to be wrong. The mind of me will never admit it’s wrong for fear that you will find out the truth: that it doesn’t really know much of what it pretends to know.

We can see this phenomenon occurring within some of the Pharisees of Jesus time. Not all of the Pharisees, but many of them, refused to believe that Jesus’ power was from God even when their own spiritual scientific method proved it. The mind of me within them had already drawn a hasty conclusion, and it was sticking to it.

That leads me to another peril of blind faith related to an issue that has come up more in society recently: conspiracy theories. Many very spiritual people are falling for these – even I have at times. They are often impossible to disprove and so easily spread with the many forms of media today.

Allow me to bring up a wonderful little proverb I learned from cognitive behavioral therapy. The proverb is this: Anything is possible, but not probable. In other words, the mind of me can come up with an infinite number of possible scenarios as “problems” to worry about, but how many of them are probable? How many actually happen?

When the mind of me hears, “This is what’s going on behind the scenes,” and/or “This is what’s going to happen in the future,” it’s all ears. It wants so badly to be “in the know.” It believes it reduces anxiety, but what it really does is temporarily cover it over with a feeling of specialness. “I know something you don’t know. I have inside information.”

If the mind of me is like a fish, then conspiracy theories are like big fat juicy worms. It gets so easily hooked, and the more these conspiracy theories are repeated, the more that hook is swallowed and the more pain we feel.

Think about this: What is the probability that people who are that ego-centric will be able to put aside their extreme self-interest long enough to cooperate with others – to play nice – to the degree that would be required to pull off such elaborate schemes?

The probability of these conspiracy theories happening in reality is small. There might be some truth to them, which makes them seem more probable, but that is just another hooking tactic – to mix up some truth with the lies. They are often “based on a true story.” Just like with TV shows and the movies that are based on a true story, elements of fiction are added to make it more dramatic, and the mind of me craves drama!

Chances are better that those who come up with conspiracy theories are simply aware of our human vulnerability: the extreme gullibility of the mind of me. So they use conspiracy theories to try to influence people’s behavior or just for fun – to see how far it goes. It makes them feel powerful.

But what does believing these theories do to us? Usually, it just ramps up our fear and/or disgust with the world, and it may cause us to make irrational decisions that are harmful to us.

So, if we believe something that causes us to feel extreme negativity about life, we can be sure it’s not the truth – at least not the whole truth and therefore – a lie. What helps to catch the mind of me in the act of assuming it knows what it doesn’t really know is to regularly ask ourselves, “Do I really know that?”

To avoid the perils of blind faith, it is truly wise not to place our faith in anything without evidence – real, verifiable evidence. Of course, the mind of me will tell you that the evidence out there is all lies. Only it knows the truth. That’s just another one if its tactics.

Your Self (with a capital S) knows what the truth is, and it will let you know by how you feel. If you are confused, you can always ask for clarity, and the Holy Spirit will provide. If you feel peace, then you can trust what you have received.

The most important thing to remember is what Jesus said at the end of this scripture reading: “Who are my mother and my brothers? Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” He wasn’t saying that those who don’t do the will of God can be ostracized. That misinterpretation occurs when the verse is taken out of context.

He was simply answering the question that was probably on the minds of many of those who were judging him to be insane. “Why he going so far out of his way for these people he doesn’t even know?”

“Who are they to him?”

The people who were coming to him to hear him teach the Scriptures and for healing were demonstrating faith in God and were doing the Will of God. They were just as important to him as his own family, and just as he would temporarily neglect his own needs to take care of his own family members in their dire need, he would do the same for these people.

Because all of them are part of his spiritual family: the family of God. They are his brothers and sisters in Christ, and because of that, they deserve compassion and understanding, not judgment. When we spend less time judging our brothers and sisters, then we have far more time to actually care for them.

Let’s pray together: Lord, we are grateful for having been given not only a rational mind but also the Holy Spirit to help us to discern the truth from lies. Help us to shun blind faith and to refrain from judgments unless we have all the facts. Let us focus instead of kindly serving our brothers and sisters. Amen.

Resources

Life Application Study Bible. Zondervan, 2011.

Sample, Steven B. The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002), p. 7