Fr. Matthew the Poor on the Three Enemies of Faith

Fr. Matthew the Poor on the Three Enemies of Faith

Faith has three enemies: reliance on natural reason, fear, and skepticism.

1. Reliance on Empirical Reason. Reliance on empirical reason hampers the work of faith and frustrates the acceptance of its effectiveness, for it is well known in nature that man cannot walk on the sea or move mountains or rebuke the wind and waves or raise the dead. As for faith, it pays no regard to nature and its laws.

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Faith can do all this and even more. For this reason, if man depends entirely on his empirical reasoning, his faith will be paralyzed: “Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God’” (Jn 11.39, 40)?

Natural reason and calculation foster fear, and fear leaves no room for faith. It is common knowledge, for example, that vipers and scorpions are noxious. The look of them strikes terror into the heart. But faith has a transcendent vision and can look upon them as blessed creatures created by God. Faith stands fearless before them: “Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall hurt you” (Lk 10. 19). Science proves that poison is deadly, but faith does not know this: “They will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them” (Mk 16.18).

We can thus see that scientific reason constrains the work of faith and hinders its consummation.

2. Fear. Fear is a proof that man still longs to defend his own ego and pities himself. It is a symptom of self-love and stands in opposition to faith. Fear weakens faith and deprives man of its fruits.

Faith in itself is an exodus from man’s ego and a denial of self, an exodus urged by man’s love for God and for other people. A true believer is one who has surrendered his soul and body to God. Fearing nothing at all, he puts all his trust in God’s faithful promises: “He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (Jn 11.25). It is in this spirit that Abraham offered his son: “He considered that God was able to raise men even from the dead” (Heb 11.19). In this spirit also did the three young men, undaunted, enter into the fiery furnace. They were sure that God would save them from its flames: “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If it be so, our God who we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace; and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king” (Dan 3.16, 17). When thrown into the den of lions, Daniel trusted in his God: “So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no kind of hurt was found upon him, because he had trusted in his God” (Dan 6.23).

In order to grasp the danger of fear and the harm it inflicts on our spiritual life, we should ponder this verse: “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, as for murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their lot shall be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death” (Rev 21.8).

You might be surprised to see the cowardly placed at the head of this sinister list. The reason for this is that fear is the element that causes our fall into the rest of all these sins.

3. Skepticism. In may seem that doubt is a mild form of fear. However, the converse is true. Fear is but a symptom of an imperfect knowledge, while doubt is a sin directly aimed against God: doubt is disbelief in God’s promises. Doubt fosters fear. Doubt is the first weakening of trust in God, but it gives rise to fear, the farthest point away from God. When Peter saw how violent the wind was, he employed his powers of assessment and concluded that he could go no further. He surrendered to fear and began to sink. He doubted the Lord’s command. This is what the Lord disclosed to him in clear terms. “’Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus; but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘O man of little faith, why did you doubt’” (Mt 14.28-31)? … “Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore, I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours” (Mk 11.23, 24).

Persistence in prayer and worship is one of the signs of effective faith. If faith represents the columns on which the temple of spiritual life stands, perseverance represents the stones by which the whole edifice is constructed.