November 27

Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible

Reading schedule

John 14:8-14; 2 John 7-13; Job 23; Daniel 1

Jesus has just made an extraordinary claim: that he is the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6). The exclusive nature of this claim flies against the popular idea that all roads lead to heaven, or that there are many ways to God. Jesus claims that those who wish to know God need only come to know him.

The disciples were able to sit in the presence of Jesus and get to know him in ways we cannot. We accept or reject these claims based on faith. People like Richard Dawkins promote a view that faith is believing something without evidence, or even believing something that contradicts the evidence. Today’s passages show that such a view is not compatible with Christian faith. Faith is something based on evidence. Here, Jesus appeals to experiential evidence. The disciples had walked, talked and lived with Jesus. They knew him and the sort of person he was, and based on this, he asked them to trust him. We cannot have the same experience of being with Jesus in the flesh, but Christians have a spiritual relationship with Jesus which provides experiential evidence of his reality and trustworthiness.

Jesus also raised another type of evidence: that of his miracles (v. 11). The Greek word used here means ‘works,’ not just supernatural events. The things Jesus had done, including his miracles, provided evidence to support his claims (5:36; 10:37-38). Jesus added that his followers (even in our day) will do even greater things than he had. The evidence of God working through Christians continues to provide evidence that God is real and Jesus’ claims are true.

In Daniel 1 we find another type of evidence, what could be viewed as experimental evidence. Scientific evidence is highly valued today, and sometimes viewed as being irrelevant to or incompatible with faith. Daniel shows that faith-based decisions can be supported by experimental evidence. The royal official believed that eating food other than the king’s would leave the men less healthy (v. 10). Daniel offered to test that assumption with a simple experiment. The impact of their diet on their health could be measured, and the results showed that the Babylonian assumption was not valid.

Today, many experimental studies support the health benefits of taking Christian faith seriously. Harold Koenig and colleagues have summarised hundreds of these studies in the Handbook of Religion and Health (Oxford University Press, 2012, 2nd ed.). Scientifically studying the impact of faith on health is challenging because of the many confounding factors involved. Even with these limitations, this book of over a thousand pages documents a consistent pattern of beneficial effects in most studies.

Experimental evidence is not the only, or even primary, reason to believe a claim. Given the complexity of the world, and the reality of deception as warned about in 2 John, we must evaluate all the evidence. When we approach questions of belief, either about Jesus or about what is ethical, different types of evidence should be considered. What does the Bible state on the issue? What does past experience or the actions of others reveal? What is the scientific evidence on the issue?

The evidence for belief or ethics is rarely overwhelming, but involves some degree of uncertainty. Faith carries us across the gap between what we are confident of because of evidence and what we cannot be sure of or see (Hebrews 11:1). Christian faith is not belief without evidence, but includes consideration of all relevant evidence. Ethical decision-making likewise takes into account the best evidence available in seeking to make the best possible decision.

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