A young man, asked to define “faith” replied: “Faith is believin’ what you know ain’t true.” Another man has defined faith as “a persistent false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence” (Richard Dawkins). These are common perceptions of faith which perceive it, essentially, as wishful thinking. Today I want to offer you a different understanding of what faith is and how it works, one more in keeping with my own experience.
Here’s my definition of faith: Faith is: “a belief that leads to a trust which continues beyond what we can directly observe, completely prove, or fully understand.” Let’s break that definition down. First, it involves belief in something or someone. In the case of Christianity, that belief is focused on God, what the Bible teaches about Him, and the salvation He offers. Second, this belief leads to trust. Christians put their full trust in Jesus and in all His promises to save them in this life and the next. Third, this belief and trust persist even when they require us to believe beyond what we can directly observe, completely prove, or fully understand. This is the hardest part of faith; the part with some risk. In some ways it’s like marriage partners believing one another’s promise to faithfully love one another “till death us do part”. Based on what they know of each other right now, they decide to risk making a lifetime commitment.
Building off of this definition, let me make a few observations.
· Faith is not an option used only by religious people. Everyone exercises some form of faith
Given the nature of human limitations all of us must believe and trust beyond what we can directly observe, completely prove, or fully understand. “All of us” includes scientists and rationalists. Everyone must find a starting place for their work based on certain presuppositions. The scientist, for example, must trust in their powers of observation, believing that the world they observe isn’t just an illusion inside their heads. Rationalists, in turn, mustpresume that the laws of logic are correct or they can’t argue anything to begin with.
· Faith and reason work together as partners
Faith is not the opposite of reason. On the contrary, faith is often put in motion, in the first place, because of reason. Reason helps us to evaluate a potential belief; to see if it makes sense and it’s a good risk. I exercised faith by marrying my wife, but first I used reason to evaluate that potential choice. I observed her habits, her character, and how well we worked together. I gave our relationship a lot of thought, and so did she. Faith, by itself, wasn’t enough to make this a good decision. This leads to the next observation:
· The value of my faith is determined by its object
Faith, in itself, is only a neutral tool; one which can be used wisely or foolishly. There’s little benefit in faith for faith’s sake. If I have an unshakeable faith that I can fly using only my flapping arms , and prove my faith by jumping off of the Hancock building, that faith will prove foolish and fatal. If what I believe is false, then my faith becomes a liability. If it’s true then my faith becomes an asset.
So why do I believe a good idea to put our faith in Jesus rather than in something or someone else?
· The Christian faith makes sense
While I can’t take the time in this short presentation to present arguments for the existence of God, the historicity of Christ, or the evidence for Christ’s resurrection, others have done so at length. Go to “Reasonable Faith.org” on the internet for a wealth of information on these issues and others. Do Christians have all the evidence we’d like to prove our case? No. Do we still have a lot of evidence? We do. So while we can’t completely prove our beliefs, we can show that they make good sense.
It’s important to understand here, though, that there are different sorts of evidence to prove different sorts of truths. Some, like Richard Dawkins, demand that religious issues be proven scientifically, as though the scientific method is the only solid way to discover truth. That’s not realistic or fair. Historical facts must be proven with historical methods. And metaphysical truths involving philosophy or religion are proven, to a large extent, through thoughtful argumentation buttressed by experience.
· Faith opens the door to an eternal, life-giving relationship with God
For some reason, God has turned faith into a sort of spiritual key to unlock the door of salvation. The Bible says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). If we’re willing to believe in Jesus and trust Him for salvation, then God will save us from our sins. If we refuse to believe, then the salvation door remains locked. We can’t save ourselves, but we can allow God to save us through faith. Furthermore, the benefits of an eternal, life-giving relationship with God are priceless – an eternity filled with unbelievable joy, peace and purpose.
· Faith allows us to survive and thrive right now in our broken world
Heaven’s nice to think about, but we’re not there yet, are we? Our planet lays shattered, fallen from its pristine pedestal. People devour one other while pillaging the environment. Our bodies feel the bite of disease and injury. God doesn’t often come out in the open so that we can have a chat. This is a difficult phase in our spiritual journey. Faith is crucial if we’re to survive. By faith we hang onto God even when life is confusing and painful. By faith we make right choices even when what’s wrong seems so tempting. Faith allows us to see the big picture even when the perspective of the moment seems blurry and distorted. Faith allows us to stay strong in our commitment to God. Without faith we’ll fold up and quit.
So what is your faith focused on today? Is it primarily in yourself, in your abilities and understandings? Is it in another person – one you consider wise and enlightened? Is it in a god of some sort – which one and why? From my own experience let me recommend faith in Jesus Christ. From my perspective, Jesus has proven to be “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6).