FAITH & THE SENSUS DIVINITATIS

When I was a child and my Christian parents spoke about God, they did not have to describe what a god was, or draw me a picture. My dad would often read the Bible to me, and my mom would sing worship songs. They spoke about what God did for them and what they were trusting God to do. As they spoke about “God” I immediately understood what they meant. I had a deep sense that this being was real, and that humans could communicate with this being. I recall that at a very early age I even prayed to God to resolve a health issue and believed with all my heart that God could heal me. And God did just that. I have been healed from that affliction ever since. This is, in a sense, what the faith of a little child means.

As an adult, I have become more sophisticated in my thinking. During my undergraduate years, I majored in philosophy. I learned critical thinking skills and learned how to think for myself instead of going along with the flow of the crowd. I read and encountered many ideas, some of which I have entertained, others rejected. The journey of learning continues as I am currently finishing up my final year at HBU, reading for a Master’s degree in Apologetics. Last semester, I took a great course on theistic arguments, where we touched upon the moral argument, the cosmological argument, the ontological argument, the argument from consciousness, and the teleological argument. While I believe that these arguments present strong evidence in support of a theistic faith, I ultimately believe that the strongest evidence of all, for me, is the sensus divinitatis.

The sensus divinitatis is Latin for a “sense of the divine.” Philosopher Alvin Plantinga writes that “God created human beings originally with something like what John Calvin called a ‘Sensus Divinitatis’—a sense of divinity, a faculty, a set of cognitive processes whereby we come to know about God…the Sensus Divinitatis is a faculty analogous, in some ways, to sense perception. By way of this faculty we human beings [can] know of the presence and properties of God. More important, by way of this faculty we [can] have the sort of relationship with God that we have with other persons.”

The sensus divinitatis explains why I grasped the concept of God when I was a child, and why that profound divine sense continues to grow with the passage of time. It is the assurance that God exists and is sovereign no matter what is going on in the world. From the sensus divinitatis, other arguments also make sense, such as the moral argument and the teleological because this being that we intuitively sense becomes more real through the moral law and through the order of nature.

I think that faith is often misunderstood as blind belief. But that is not the case, or at least it shouldn’t be. It’s certainly not the idea of faith as the Bible depicts it. As St. Anselm wisely posited, faith is that which seeks understanding. Faith does not stay in the realm of ignorant bliss. Behind faith is a God of reason, a God of order and harmony. Faith does not say, “I believe in spite of the evidence.” Instead it believes because of the evidence, both internal and external—evidence that convinces us personally and that we can also share with others whose own interior experiences may or may not be as effective at inculcating faith within them. Faith is what truly pleases God. Without faith, it is impossible to please God. I think there is almost a sense of human pride in demanding that God show us evidence. The evidence is all around us, and it is even within us. But we must be willing to lay down our arms, as C. S. Lewis once put it, and be open to something greater.

Sometimes the heart determines our capacity for faith. If a person is closed off, no matter how much evidence is presented, that person will not believe. This is one of those incredibly important junctures at which epistemology and ethics converge. I have come to the firm belief that the beautiful journey in discovering ourselves and the world around us includes being open to something greater than ourselves.

The fear of the Lord is indeed the beginning of wisdom.

Source: Alvin Plantinga’s Knowledge and Christian Belief, pp. 7-8

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