You’re caught in a blinding blizzard and you reach the edge of a cliff. The way back is death. The way forward is unknowable. And so you leap, hoping—without evidence—that you will land on something, rather than plunge into the abyss.
To many, this is what “leap of faith,” the term coined by the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, means. And it is why many apologists (defenders of rational faith) dislike the term. Nevertheless, I find myself returning to it again and again. Not only because it sharply describes my original “leap,” but because, as a hysterical skeptic prone to bouts of emotional disbelief, fearing that what I believe is simply too wonderful to be true, I need to retake that leap almost daily.
But is it rational? Francis Schaeffer, the 20th century theologian whose apologetics were of great help to me in the shaky early days of my faith (I once made a pilgrimage to his remote retreat center L’Abri high in the Swiss Alps), disliked the term. And yet his very reason for disliking it, I believe, redeems it. The rational believer, he says, makes a leap that looks more like this:
Caught in a blizzard, you reach the edge of a cliff. But while the way forward is un-seeable, it is not unknowable. Because through the dense fog a seasoned Mountaineer calls out to you, assuring you that a ledge is within reach. If you jump, he says, you will be saved. You trust him because he offers evidence that he is who he says he is. Thus your leap is rational. And the way back is, after all, death. And so you leap.
There are two kinds of evidence: the first, empirical, that which can be observed with the senses; the second, testimony, i.e. witnesses, the type of evidence the legal system depends upon. The more witnesses, the better. But of even greater importance is the quality of the witnesses. 43 years ago, I began reading the New Testament and found within in its pages witnesses (Peter, Paul, James, John, et al) of great character. Their wisdom and humility were profound. And yet each of them deferred to an even greater witness, the Mountaineer who’d called them to leap. The Mountaineer’s own words and character burned a hole in my skeptical heart, causing His light and life to pour in.
And so I leaped.
I have never regretted it. Because it wasn’t just a leap of faith, it was a leap of life, a leap away from the death that lay behind. And forward toward the life of hope, purpose, and love that lay ahead.