Reflections on the Nature of Faith

Photo by Josh Boot on Unsplash

Transcending the limits of the intellect

Faith is sometimes described as belief without evidence. Non-believers promote this idea, but many believers also say this is the substance of faith. If we had evidence, why would we need faith?

But this is a shallow understanding of faith. If that was the substance of faith, faith would be irrational. But the deeper understanding is that faith transcends the rational.

Faith goes beyond the intellect, not in defiance of it, or in denial of it. Faith steps out into territory the intellect cannot penetrate. It’s a method of gaining truth that is beyond the ability of the intellect to know.

Faith is a surrender at the edge of reason. A leap into the unknown. A confidence of things hoped for and the assurance of things we cannot see. But that confidence is based on evidence. Faith isn’t a blind and irrational hope.

Faith should be understood as trust or fidelity. It’s a practical commitment. The commitment isn’t an intellectual acceptance of a theoretical truth. Faith is the theory brought to life. It’s an act of will, not a belief.

A detached intellectual acceptance of God’s existence, or a belief in religious doctrine won’t inspire us into religious practices or a saintly life. We must go beyond acceptance of a theory. We can’t claim to believe in God while continuing with a materialistic life.

A familiar analogy of marriage — our life partner

We can understand this conception of faith with a familiar analogy. The initiation of a marriage is a commitment to join our lives together. A promise to act in fidelity to one another, to care for each other’s interests and welfare.

At first, we have only a verbal and theoretical commitment, a legal contract. But the heart of the contract is a promise. Actions bring the contract and promise to life. It’s only by continual actions faithful to the contract that trust between partners deepens and grows. There is no alternative to this method if our goal is to develop and maintain a relationship with another person.

Fidelity goes beyond the legal contract and fulfills the substance of it. Our actions are the substance of a marriage. A marriage is a pledge of fidelity to another person. A loyalty that persists in sickness and in health, in wealth or poverty, favorable or unfavorable circumstances. We can’t claim to believe in our marriage while having an affair.

Faith involves risk

In this living venture, we have sufficient theoretical evidence the relationship will succeed. But the undertaking is inherently risky. The outcome is beyond our control. Our commitment isn’t a guarantee. We’re necessarily vulnerable to betrayal or adverse outcomes.

This is an unavoidable consequence of trust. Trust is confidence, not proof. We should see the commitment as having faith in God, not faith that God (exists).

We can establish God’s existence with reason and the intellect. This is the project of natural theology. From our observations of the natural world we can infer the existence of God. The rational case for theism is robust enough to support a rationally justified belief God exists.

There is no unusual rational risk in believing God exists. The risk is in trusting a person we know only from theoretical deductions and the testimony of those we accept as reliable witnesses.

And on that basis, we must step out alone in untraveled territory. Doubt and skepticism can’t help us, they will paralyze us on the threshold. We can’t wait for proof, the confirmation is only available by action.

Faith as a method of knowing

Faith is the only instrument capable of connecting us with a living God. We can’t detect God with the senses or grasp and confine him within the intellect. But the heart has the power to draw him toward us with a bond of affection and trust.

If we are true to God, God will be true to us. This is the foundation of all personal relationships and no less true with God. As we approach God, he will respond accordingly.

Faith is a living dynamic path, not one on which we can become complacent and allow our faith to solidify into dogma. It requires constant searching and questioning to align ourselves with God’s will. That quest is to live in harmony with the universally benevolent will.

Love is the supreme controller – Love conquers all

Faith is the instrument with which we can realize truths of existential importance. Faith takes it as true that love is supreme and acts accordingly.

This isn’t a detached intellectual acceptance of an ideal. It’s a recognition that living and acting in harmony with that ideal constitutes the ultimate salvation and consummation of our existence. A recognition that love is ultimately victorious over any attempt to undermine it.

Faith is an orientation to life and the world. It’s a belief that at its foundation, the world is good and here for a purpose. It isn’t an uncaring and insentient reality that exists for no reason. Faith transforms the world from an object to a subject. From an it, to a thou.

Faith is an optimism and confidence in the ultimate meaning of our lives. You can’t know the truth of faith by affirming it in theory, by preaching its glories to others or by casting doubt on its virtue from the sidelines.

You must live it and experience it first-hand. Faith is both the foundational, and the ultimate expression of our free will. Its power transforms the mundane into the divine.

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