Faith is inescapable. Trust is embedded, in various ways, in all human actions.
We act in order to achieve certain results, aiming at expected consequences. When we act, we trust that the actions we perform will achieve those consequences.
I turn the handle on my sink, trusting that the city’s water system is working—that unhealthy impurities have been removed, that there’s not an unrepaired hole in the piping, that the water pressure will be adequate to force water out of my spigot. I know virtually nothing about where the water comes from or how it gets to my home.
Out trust might not be rewarded. The water treatment might fail and let some nasty microbe slip by into my glass. On those occasions, it becomes clear how much trust we have invested. Nearly every year while living in Idaho, our well would slow, or someone would leave a hose dripping, and our 1500-gallon cistern would go dry. When I turned the handle and didn’t get water, I wasn’t just disappointed. I felt betrayed.
So, I get my water on trust, and I drink it, trusting that water will refresh me, help keep me alive. Again, I know very little about how that happens because I’ve not taken the time to investigate the process in detail. Mostly, I’m relying a combination of habit and half-remembered, one-third-understood reading about cell biology. Even if I knew more, I would be ignorant about computers or cars or elevators or food inspection. Trust in natural and technical cause-and-effect is essential to every human action.
An entrepreneur solicits investors and builds the infrastructure of a company trusting that human beings will respond in certain ways to what he has to offer them; that, or he can nudge them this way and that so they come to see the value of his product or service. A government agency launches a program confident that it knows how the incentives and penalties of the program will affect society for the better. All our big dreams and plans are wild acts of faith. So our all our little dreams and mundane actions. Life itself is a wild act of faith.
Our actions are teleologically structured, aimed at an unknown future, and we act only when we trust that we can anticipate that future to some degree.
Christian faith is a specification of the trust inherent in human action. Like “natural” faith, Christian faith is teleologically oriented. It is expectation of a future, and confidence that this future is predictable to some degree. Christian faith is trust in a cause-and-effect sequence: If I do this, then I can expect that will follow. Contrary to some notions of “faith,” Christian faith is not opposed to action. If that were true, life by faith would be inhuman life, since we cannot help but act. Rather, to loosely borrow from Aristotle, faith gives form to the matter of action.
Christian faith is trust in a good heavenly Father to keep His promises. It’s trust in Jesus as the Christ who is the embodiment and fulfillment of all divine promises. It’s trust in the Spirit to carry out His good purposes in the world. Living by faith means acting in way that is guided by confidence in God and His promises, confidence that God and His promises are more reliable than anything else I trust. Christian faith reorients all of life because all of life is already fiducial; when God becomes the primary object of trust, then everything has to be adjusted accordingly.
God promises to supply food, drink, and clothing to those who pursue His kingdom and its righteousness. Life by faith is a life in pursuit of the righteousness of the kingdom, guided by the confidence that God will make good on His promise. Faced with a choice between lucrative cheating and penurious honesty, a person of faith chooses honesty, confident that there will be a reward for faithfulness. Christian faith is ultimately about final salvation: To live by faith is to believe, confess, and follow Jesus on the confidence that this is the way that leads to bliss beyond imagination and without end.
It takes faith to turn a knob expecting water. It takes faith in God’s word to expect water to flow when you strike a rock with a staff.