I was asked recently how I defined faith, and I thought it worth sharing here.
What is faith?
Dictionary.com defines faith as:
- confidence or trust in a person or thing: faith in another’s ability.
- belief that is not based on proof: He had faith that the hypothesis would be substantiated by fact.
- belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion: the firm faith of the Pilgrims.
- belief in anything, as a code of ethics, standards of merit, etc: to be of the same faith with someone concerning honesty.
- a system of religious belief: the Christian faith; the Jewish faith.
Christians and faith
I think most of these aspects of the definition are relevant to what christians generally mean by “faith”.
I think christian belief logically starts with #2 (“belief that is not based on proof”). I look at the evidence, and I find that there are many reasons to believe God exists and Jesus was his son, but also reasons to doubt that conclusion.
My judgment is that the reasons for believing strongly outweigh the reasons against believing. So I have good reason to believe, but nowhere near proof. Faith #2 takes me from that point to a commitment to follow Jesus. Those who form a different conclusion will likely not have proof either, so will likewise make a choice that may be partly based on something other then evidence, whatever they may call it.
This leaves me in a position like definitions #3-5 – holding a set of beliefs about God and Jesus, and having some sort of relationship (via prayer, etc) with this God.
Faith and doubt
Then at some time later, I may start to have doubts about my belief. And here I will need to consider two different aspects of faith and ask myself what is the cause of my doubt:
- If there are new evidential reasons that challenge my belief in some way, definition #2 (“belief that is not based on proof”) applies again. In this case I need to review the evidence, both what my belief is based on and the new evidence, and consider if my belief should change in some way.
- But it may be that my doubt isn’t based on evidence, but simply on emotions or feelings. In this case I need to just keep trusting God (which is definition #1 – “confidence or trust in a person”). Sometimes we need trust to hold on to what we still believe is true, despite our negative feelings at that time.
So what is faith?
Faith is trust, faith is belief; it takes different forms in different situations. It is based on evidence, but it goes beyond evidence and trusts the God that the evidence points to. Those who walk with God in life find that their trust grows, so that their relationship with God becomes an important part of the evidence.