What is Faith?

This post has been on my mind for months and months now. I had the basic idea for it way back when, and have been developing it (very) gradually since, but now that I have a functional computer and am reading a book that accelerated the thought process for me, it is time I put this down.

The basic premise for this post comes from countless conversations I’ve had with Christians and non-Christians about the way I’ve come to believe about the world in light of my Christian education. Let’s take a few examples: I have come to believe that the life and teachings of Jesus call me to a life of redemptive non-violence, that therefore war is never justifiable, and that the best way to conquer one’s enemies is through love. I have come to believe that the livelihood of the poor and the disenfranchised in the world falls upon the entire community, especially the Christian, because we are committed to the belief that all are made in the image of God, and that everything I have is not my own (not because I have earned it or even deserve it), but is given to me by God in order to serve the world.

Now, the many objections I have received to these suggestions typically sound something like this: “That’s nice and all, Kevin, but that’s not the way the world works. It’s just not practical to believe that way.” It’s chalked up to being nothing more than naive optimism, and I’m usually told that when I’m older, I’ll understand better. It is believed by what I would suggest is the vast majority of the population that violence can be redemptive, and is sometimes the only option in a given situation. President Bush was criticized for his “bring the fight to them” tactic in response to 9/11, and yet shortly after entering office, President Obama sent more troops to Afghanistan, giving his own speech about war being necessary and redemptive.

With that as the backdrop, I want to take a look at a brief verse I think most of us are familiar with. Hebrews 11:1 reads, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see.” I want to ask the question then, What is it that we hope for, and yet do not see?

Typically, this verse is interpreted to be talking about a general belief in God. We don’t see God, and yet we believe anyway. Therefore we have faith. Allow me to suggest, however, that in the eleventh chapter of a long discourse detailing the nature of salvation, the identity of Christ, among many other topics, the author of Hebrews is not seizing the opportunity to make a Sunday School argument that we ought to believe in God even though we don’t see God. Especially since the community being written to is already an assembly of believing Christians.

What I would like to suggest, then, is that the things that we hope for and do not see, are those same tenets that Jesus taught and yet we have written off as being “impractical”. Jesus taught that we are to love our enemies, and that rather than retaliation we should more willingly be struck again. He taught that the poor among us are to be treated as if they were Christ himself, and that the way we deal with them has implications for eternity (Matthew 6). And yet we have written off such ideas as pacifism or socialism (gasp!) as being impractical and impossible.

But I think it all boils down to what kind of world we believe in. If we believe that the world is going to hell in a hand-basket, and that we are merely trying to get through this life to get to heaven later, then I would tend to agree with these fatalistic, pessimistic views on social action. However, if you believe that through Christ, God is reconciling the world unto Godself, that the Kingdom of God is bursting forth in the midst of this one, that we live in a world of abundance in which the birds and the lillies never want or need, and where love truly, truly conquers all, then EVERYTHING changes.

This thing we call faith, then, is not simply about believing in God rather than not. Faith is believing that the world really is the way Jesus taught that it is, even though it doesn’t appear to be that way. Faith is believing that responding to violence with redemptive love and humility is actually the best way, even though the world tells us that retaliation is justified. Faith is believing that the destiny of the poor among us falls on our shoulders, even though the world tells us that it is not our burden or responsibility. Faith is being sure that the world we hope for (the Kingdom of God) is real and among us, and certain that the world can be that way, even though we don’t see it fully realized right now.

I will finish with a quote from a phenomenal book I’m reading called How (Not) to Speak of God by Peter Rollins: “Faith, although not born at the crucifixion, is put on trial there.” The crucifixion was the point where all who had followed Jesus believed that it was over, that the movement had died. All practical belief that Jesus was the Messiah ended at the crucifixion, and would not be revitalized until the Resurrection. Crucifixion is where our faith is tested, where what we see is devastation and the death of an “optimistic” view of the world, and we are given the opportunity to either forget all we have learned or to believe that Resurrection is around the corner. I choose to believe that even though the world looks like a place of violence, poverty, greed, and hatred, Resurrection is coming.

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