What Is Faith? [Questions That Haunt]

What Is Faith? [Questions That Haunt] April 30, 2013

In case you missed it over the weekend (since I missed my Friday deadline), on Sunday I posted my response to last week’s question, in which I argued that God is not omniscient in the way that most people think God is.

This week’s question comes from Steve, a pastor. I know that a lot of reader of this blog struggle with “faith” and “belief,” and that many of us have one foot in faith and one foot out. So it’s probably a good challenge for us to step away from the recent theological questions and ask a more personal, existential question. Steve asks,

Since being diagnosed with cancer six months ago, I find myself revisiting my understanding of terms like faith and hope.  Next month I preaching about faith the topic of faith.  In the process of preparing for the two sermons I am going to preach the thought occurred to me that I might benefit from other people’s insights. Here’s my question, how would you define faith? What does it mean to have faith in the midst of living your life?

Give Steve your best answer, and I’ll respond on Friday.

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  • Anita Webster

    To continually surrender to what is unfolding while living from the heart….feeling confident that even the “bad stuff” is meant to serve the raising of humanity’s consciousness.

  • Chris Baca

    Faith, to me, is better understood as fidelity to a message or an event. It has little to do with whether I ‘believe’ an event actually, historically took place.

    Today, I may or may not ‘believe’ Jesus was God incarnate, or that he really rose from the dead. Regardless, my faith is defined by whether I live my life in response to those events, whether they are ‘true’ or not.

    • Craig

      What does it mean to have ‘fidelity’ to an event that one believes did not occur?

      I believe that Mohammed didn’t ride to heaven on a winged horse. What does it mean for me to have fidelity to that non-occurring event? Given that I do not believe that it occurred, what would it mean for me to live in response to it?

      • Chris Baca

        That’s a good question, and probably a fair critique.

        I think the question is, how does that particular story relate to my experience of reality, and what I perceive to be the common experience of others? Personally, the story of Mohammed riding to heaven on a winged horse has no relation to my personal experience of reality and my relationships to others. However, I think the Crucifixion and the Resurrection (not to mention the teachings of Christ and the traditions of Christianity) DO correspond with my understanding of reality.

        Therefore, despite my doubts about whether Jesus physically rose from the dead or was God incarnate, I find those events to house a truth about reality that is deeper than the discussion of whether they actually happened or not. It’s not that those conversations shouldn’t happen, but the fact is, I doubt the veracity of those claims every other day. What is more important than my doubt is my faith in the kind of love Jesus of Nazareth embodied in the Gospels.

  • Steven Kurtz

    Trust: just like the way you let your mom pull the splinter out of your finger even though it hurt, you trusted that she loved you had had your best interest at heart, and that good would come from it. God is good – and we believe sometimes because of, and sometime in spite of it all, and we are banking everything on the notion that our best picture of God is what we see in Jesus.

  • A trusting response that informs how we live.

  • 2TrakMind

    Faith in what? Faith about what? To me, faith is similar to trust. Faith, in the context of God’s existence, is less about intellect, and more about intuition. It’s more about feeling than provable fact. With this in mind, I think it’s interesting how Christians, so often attempt to use the Bible to prove the existence of God to people who believe neither in God, or the Bible as an authoritative source of historic significance. If we can “prove” God, or the authority of the Bible, it’s not faith.

  • Jonnie

    Following Chris’ thoughts: We must re-conceptualize religious ‘belief’ so it is not so divorced from how real life beliefs happen–i.e. in parents, cars, etc. In other words, we don’t will ourselves into trust/belief, but rather find ourselves believing in things as we try them out, explore life in and through them, and spend time around them. i.e. I didn’t choose to believe that mom is who she says she is, or that my car should be trusted to not explode and shoot engine parts into me, I experimented with them, and found myself trusting in them as a matter of reflecting back on what I believe based on looking at how I live (e.g. I drive my car without fear).

    Christians so often shrivel ‘belief’ or ‘faith’ down to a decision or matter of assent, rather than a lived and experimented kind of trust we find ourselves with rather than choose. This is why alter calls are SO prone to lead us into self deception, and why they feel SO weird. This one little corner of life (the religious) is where we choose to believe, but everywhere else we are allowed to have natural organic beliefs.

    Faith then, is a fidelity and trust I find myself with, having explored the Christian tradition (God, JC, etc.), at first nervously, and found it life giving and trustworthy, like a new driver. I never chose to trust God (in the abstract), I found myself believing. Fidelity happens, it isn’t chosen, especially not in moments of existential or intellectual willing. That will only confuse and distort.

    • Chris Baca

      Agreed, Jonnie. Better explanation of what I was (probably ineffectively) trying to say.

  • JimA

    Some sort of single answer may be a bit difficult because of the variations in personal definitions, unarticulated or otherwise. But it seems to me that faith is indeed trust. Beliefs might turn into faith when we put ourselves at risk in light of that belief. [Hence the sense expressed by some that faith is more like a verb thing].

    In contrast, beliefs are working, but relatively untested hypotheses. That said, we might not be able to navigate in this world without beliefs. They help us make some sense of things that are somehow beyond our direct knowing, but are still important to us in making some sort of sense and order out of disconnected bits of information and understandings. They bridge the gaps in what we know through experience and what we’ve been taught, and ultimately, they are the glue used to tie together the framework for life we call worldview.

    Worldviews are strong and by nature strongly resist change in their belief components. But it is helpful to recognize the character of belief, and be at least anticipate some evolution of beliefs. The tradition nature of religious belief strongly resists change. But we are a little more receptive to change in most other aspects of life.

    It has been my experience that as I have pondered these distinctions in the realm of engagement with the divine, some of my beliefs have moved into the area of faith. As I found my understandings of Christ and Christianity evolving away from some of the more mainstream ones, my sense of being ultimately and wholly subject to divine grace (given the stakes in changing in those ways) has grown in ways I did not anticipate.

  • Rob Davis

    Faith could be defined as confronting the possibility that the universe is either indifferent or hostile toward us, or that existence is entirely meaningless, but going on living anyway. Those emphases have attracted me for a long time.

    But, here recently I’ve just seen that kind of language as philosophical mumbo jumbo that doesn’t mean anything to the majority of the actual people that I’m around. To those real people, faith specifically refers to “religious belief.” For now, I’ll stick with that common understanding, and continue to reject it as being unnecessary and unhelpful for my life.

  • Tim Collins

    For me, faith is the acceptance of love. We can never know the whole story of the ‘why’ of life; we will never have all the answers.

  • Faith has to be something more than a dimensional object that we possess in various amounts. I think it is much more of an exercise. Maybe the reason we find it so difficult to define is because we aren’t asking the right question. Instead of “What is Faith?” it should be “How do we do Faith?”

  • ME

    Was Jesus God? Are the scriptures in the ball park of true? To me faith is believing the answers to those two questions are yes even when I know I don’t know. If I believe it, that reality is a very different reality than the reality of the culture we live in. Organizing my life around that belief leads to dramatic changes compared to before I did believe.

  • Dave

    Why does religion place such value in faith? I don’t understand why you don’t demand evidence.

    • Caperev

      The primary idea of faith is trust. Trust is demonstrated through action. I have faith that the chair will hold my weight before I sit down. I demonstrate my faith by sitting on the chair. Believing in God is not faith until you put your beliefs into action. This is why religion values faith. Religion is man’s pursuit of God and pursuing requires action.

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