Sometimes it can be hard to discern the difference between faith and presumption. On more than one occasion I’ve seen two people in a similar situation convinced God was going to do something. One person had faith, one presumption. One would be satisfied either way, not so the other. And maybe that is the distinguishing characteristic.
For true faith to survive it needs the oxygen of humility. Presumption on the other hand can live quite comfortably alone with self. “I know” replaces “He knows.”
During the Battle of the Wilderness in the Civil War, Union general John Sedgwick was inspecting his troops. At one point he came to a parapet, over which he gazed out in the direction of the enemy. His officers suggested it was unwise and perhaps he ought to duck while passing the parapet. “Nonsense,” snapped the general. “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this dist—.”
This is presumption.
In a March 26, 1954 letter to a Mrs. D. Jessup, C. S. Lewis sought to address Mrs. Jessup’s fear of the future. He illustrated it this way:
“Two men had to cross a dangerous bridge. The first convinced himself that it would bear them, and called this conviction Faith. The second said ‘Whether it breaks or holds, whether I die here or somewhere else, I’m equally in God’s good hands.’ And the bridge did break and they were both killed: and the second man’s faith was not disappointed and the first man’s was.”1
A simple illustration for sure but one that puts faith in a much larger narrative.
Not being omniscient we will always be confusing faith and presumption. Reminding ourselves of the first point will improve our odds on the second.
“If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” – Daniel 3:17-18.
1. Walter Hooper, ed., The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy 1950-1963, Vol. III (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2007), 448.