What is faith?
Faith in God is a strength and a joy.
Faith means belief in something absurd, for which you don’t have any evidence: Father Christmas, the face of Jesus in a chapati, or even fairies at the bottom of your garden. Or so it is sometimes said! But that's not what faith means at all. Faith is one of the greatest Christian virtues.
Firstly, it means believing in the truths of Christianity: in the one creator God; in the coming of God among us as Jesus; in the resurrection of Jesus; and in eternal life. Now, these beliefs may be difficult, but none of them are absurd. They have been reflected on by learned Christians down the ages, and are defended today by those historians, scientists and philosophers who are Christians (and there are more of them around than you might think!).
But if faith simply means belief, why is it a virtue? Surely you can’t make yourself believe something if you don’t think it’s true? Well, faith might start with seeing the reasonableness of Christian belief, and for that you might have to overcome some prejudices. Some perfectly sensible and good people simply will never be able to bring themselves to believe, but the real virtue of faith kicks in once we start to accept Christian belief.
We are not angels, or computers, but embodied persons, and our thoughts are meshed in with our feelings, and our feelings come and go. We are creatures of habit. We may feel full of faith in a cathedral, listening to sublime music, or watching a sunset… but on a dreary morning, clogged with routine, depressed by difficulties, our faith can easily fade. It is here that the virtue comes: we need to cultivate the discipline of faith even when we least feel like it, to make it a habit of mind.
And that is why it makes sense to pray to God to increase our faith. In a similar way, the disciplined atheist has to cultivate the habit of atheism, even when they may sneakily suspect that there might be a God. It is not faith in mere intellectual propositions which can move mountains, but the faith which becomes a way of life.
Faith is a matter of trust in a person, too: in Jesus, who is the human face of God. Trust involves personal encounter and love. When we fall in love, there are facts we know about the beloved, but at the core of our love is trust in them as a person. Only this way can we flourish—imagine if lovers checked up on each other every single time they were apart, looking for evidence of unfaithfulness. They wouldn’t last a day!
Of course, for lovers to trust each other involves risk and, sadly, lovers are often let down. But the answer is not to avoid the risk! That way lies isolation, and the death of love. To be able to love at all, we have to take a leap of faith, and to live with the risk of it.
No less is asked of us by God, and yet once we can bring ourselves to believe in him, our faith can be sure. For though human loves may falter, the love of God has conquered death itself, and will never fail.
Pray: Lord God, I believe! Help my unbelief. Amen.
Look up in the Bible what Jesus had to say about faith
Watch the music video for the Delirious song Deeper
Read about faith online
Read the book I'd Like to Believe, But... by Michael Green & Nick Spencer
Read the book If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat by John Ortberg
Read the book A Search for What Makes Sense by Brian D. McLaren
Read the book Answers to Tough Questions About the Christian Faith by Josh McDowell & Don Stewart
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