I recently heard somebody refer to faith as a verb. While many verbs are involved in faith, I would say that faith is itself not a verb, but it is a noun.
Faith in Jesus Christ is not believing in Christ. Having faith in Christ is having a relationship with Him. A relationship is a noun. What then does this thing involve? That is a more complex issue.
What does any relationship require? We could probably come up with a long list, but I will note a few that stand out to me.
Trust. We must be able to trust that the people we have relationships will be there for us. Our relationships with colleagues and co-workers is rooted in a trust that we will see them at certain times and places. They will follow through with their duties and responsibilities to some degree. Often times my favorite colleagues are not the ones that I work with directly on specific tasks or committees, but the ones that are there to chat about a rough day, a rough class, pop culture, or maybe Foucault.
Our relationships with family are deeper, more intimate, and they usually are longer in duration. The longevity of family relationships often has to do with the fact that such relationships are not as contingent upon geography and situation as relationships with neighbors and co-workers. My relationship with my wife involves both the good times and the bad times. Landing the new job…and getting dismissed are things that I experience with her in ways that I do with nobody else. Part of what makes our relationship such a large part of my life is that what happens to one of us…happens to both of us.
My relationship with my children involves the cute times when they smile or make me laugh. It involves when I am the best dad in the world. It also involves when I am quick to raise my voice. It involve times, like these first weeks of summer, when they never go to sleep at a decent hour.
It involves the times when I get to sit on the bathroom floor with my daughter while she vomits in the middle of the night.
Good relationships include joyful times and and difficult times. Of course, there are bad relationships and there is no such thing as a perfect relationship.
How then do we have a relation with God? Believing in something or someone who we have never seen is one thing. Having a relationship with that being is another.
My relationship with my friends involves sitting across from them at a table while breaking bread with maybe a Facebook chat
or two in between actual face-to-face encounters.
Prayer is one way that try to breach the divide between us and God. Yet, it is just one way and a limited one at that. There must be more.
God has asked us to have a relationship with him…by inviting us to having a relationship of love and community with our fellow humans. Our relationship with God is manifest in our engagement with others, whether it is with the homeless, our neighbor, or the other members of our congregation.
I am really bad at this. I have a poor temperament. My disposition often leads to conflict, a conflict that is not always conducive to harmony within a given community. Clearly, I need to develop more charity and patience. This must be why faith and repentance go hand and hand.
In viewing faith as a relationship, it changes the very nature of our relationship with God. He does not want us to believe in him. He wants us to a relationship with Him…even though we have not sat across from him in the way we have with a friend or relative. God is a social God.
This is one of the reasons why the scriptural accounts of the earthly mission of Jesus Christ are so important. Christ’s mission is multifaceted and complex. One significant reason for his birth and earthly ministry is that it established for us a physical being with whom we might have a relationship. He presence on earth made faith possible.
Now, it would be hard to have a relationship with someone if we do not think they exist. Of course, I sometimes have trouble having positive relationships with those that I have had direct earthly interaction with. However, belief is just one element of faith and it is not the most significant aspect of faith. Instead, it is the relational aspect of faith that makes faith such an important concept.
This way of conceptualizing faith has helped me appreciate the value of faith. Why would God care so much in whether we believe in him? Such a God would seem egotistical and self-obsessed. Yet, a God that wants to have a meaningful relationship with us seems consistent with the idea of God as a loving parental figure.
It is this God that I want to believe in.
It is this God that I want to have a relationship with.