Monday, March 9, 2015

What is Faith?

A well-known Bible passage says that “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1, NIV). There are passages in the Bible that can be hard to understand, but this one perfectly sums up the essence of what faith is. While the dictionary gives a generic definition such as “belief that is not based on proof” or “belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion,” Hebrews 11:1 distills what faith is into a simple sentence.

This is not to say that faith is simple; it’s not. But having a solid starting point when talking or thinking about such a complex issue is of great benefit. While a secular view of faith might indeed see a definition like “belief not based on proof” as properly describing religious faith, this in fact refers to a blind faith, a shot in the dark, a hope that really has no basis.

When looking at the theological definition of faith, it may be that the King James Version of Hebrews 11:1 puts it best: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” The KJV does not translate well for today’s reader, but the use of the word “evidence” is important. True faith is always based on evidence of some sort.

For example, the resurrection of Jesus cannot be proven scientifically; the events of the lives of historical persons cannot be put under a microscope or tested in a lab. Yet they can be weighed in light of what is called “legal/historical evidence.” In the case of the resurrection of Christ we have the evidence of an empty tomb (though guarded by Roman soldiers), the changed lives of the disciples after the Resurrection (when they were cowering in fear at the crucifixion), and the fact that the first person to find the tomb empty was a woman.

This last point is often overlooked yet very important, because at that time in Jewish culture a woman could not testify in court and was not considered a reliable witness. If the story had been fabricated by the apostles, they would certainly not have had a woman be the first to reach the empty tomb.

All of these and other things taken together constitute evidence, believable testimony that the resurrection occurred. But as no one living today was at the tomb that day, we cannot fully prove that it happened. The evidence strongly indicates that it did, but there is still a small gap between belief and fact.

The step across that gap is faith, it is being certain of what we have not seen. And one of the most interesting and exciting things about faith is that once you have a little of it, God can take that sliver of faith and build it into something stronger. This happens through prayer, through reading the Bible and seeing the teachings there come true in your own life, and through events and circumstances that the secular world would call mere coincidence.

Some will say that putting faith in anything or anyone is stupid, but the fact is, everyone lives by faith every single day. If you don’t think so, ask yourself the following questions:

How many meals have you eaten in a restaurant without ever watching the cook to be sure he wasn’t poisoning you?

How many times have you ridden in an elevator trusting that a safety inspection was performed in the past decade?

How often do you drive through an intersection every day, believing that the drivers at the cross street will actually stop at the red light?

We all exercise faith in innumerable ways, both great and small. But when it comes to the most important thing in life many are quick to dismiss faith, and this simply should not be. Our faith should be active, constantly tested, constantly explored, constantly measured against evidence. When this happens, the Christian faith is not a stumble in the dark; it is a leap into the Light.

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