Friday, April 25, 2008

Bultmann on Faith and Proof

Super Churchlady recently linked to one of my posts, and her comments led to an exchange about the nature of faith. The discussion reminded me of an essay by Rudolf Bultmann called “Science and Existence;” here are a couple excerpts:

Consider a simple example. That my father is my father can apparently be objectively established and also perceived through observation. But that he is my father can finally be perceived only by a single person, namely, by me, not through disinterested observation but only in the personal encounter in which he is father to me and I allow him to be my father. Or, to take another example, were I to want to make certain of the friendship of a friend through observation, through psychological analysis, say, I would have already destroyed the relation of friendship, which can be grounded only in mutual trust. From the standpoint of objectifying seeing, such trust includes a risk. But without such a risk there cannot be any personal relation at all between one person and another. A young man who sought to learn about his (future) bride through the information provided by a detective bureau would learn nothing at all about her personal being, because it does not disclose itself to objectifying seeing but only to existential encounter....

God is not a reality that has a place within the cosmic continuum so that God could be thought of as necessary to this continuum, even if as the head thereof. God does not stand still and does not put up with being made an object of observation. One cannot see God; one can only hear God. God’s invisibility is not due to the inadequacy of our organs of perception but is God’s being removed in principle from the domain of objectifying thinking. God’s revelation is revelation only in actu and is never a matter of God’s having already been revealed. Those who believe God’s word have certitudo in the existential act of faith, but they have no securitas. For God is not to be held fast in faith in the sense that believers can look back on their faith as a decision made once and for all. God always remains beyond what has once been grasped, which means that the decision of faith is genuine only as actualized ever anew... this constant futurity of God is God’s transcendence. (pgs. 139-140, 144, in New Testament & Mythology and Other Basic Writings)

There is much about Bultmann’s thought with which I disagree, but in emphasizing the inescapably personal nature of faith as trust and decision, I think he is exactly right.


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Super Churchlady said...

Thanks for the quote. Very interesting.

I agree that we cannot "prove" our faith - but does that mean that there's no evidence to substantiate it?

Ken Brown said...

It's not that there is no evidence, merely that the evidence must always be indirect and therefore deniable. There is always a choice involved.

You can't prove your spouse loves you, either, but that doesn't mean there is no evidence that they do!