In our religion we often hear the word faith. We are told how important it is. We don’t want to lose it. In difficult times people may tell us to have faith. But what is faith?
In the letter to the Hebrews we find “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Heb 11:1)” This may not be a complete definition, but it shows that faith is something that takes us beyond our usual, physical, psychological world. It is clear that faith is not proof. Throughout the ages, philosophers, including the ancient Greeks and Indians, and later Moslems, have tried to ‘prove’ the existence of God. These attempts continued through the Middle Ages, though the Reformation and Enlightenment until today. There are still philosophers of different religions or no religion who try to prove the existence of God though philosophy.
It is clear that these philosophical arguments are not proof in a mathematical or scientific sense. Probably no atheist has become Christian simply by reading these proofs. However, if we think of these arguments not as proofs but as ways of understanding, they can be helpful. They can show us that our faith is not irrational.
They can also help us to make sense of the faith we already have. Faith can be divided into two broad categories: faith that something is true and faith as trust.
The first kind of faith is faith in the first sense meaning that some idea or concept or feeling is true. So, we say that we believe in God. This means that with our whole person, including our reason, tells us that there is a God, that God exists. We can call this faith propositional faith, faith that some proposition is true, i.e., “God exists”. The statements of the Creed are all propositional in the sense that we assent to certain statements. In this kind of faith the role of reason is prominent, but this kind of faith is not simply a product of reason. Our whole person is involved.
The second kind is faith as trust. In that sense we have a strong feeling that God or a family member or friend will always be there for us, will always ‘have our backs”.
This feeling is not something we can prove rationally. It is a conviction that comes from deep within us. It is a faith built up from experience.
Obviously Christian faith encompasses both kinds of faith. There is the intellectual faith that God exists and that all the other doctrines of the Creed are true.
This kind of faith is important. It is a statement about reality. It is not simply an expression of our feelings. However, this kind of faith is not enough. It is possible to intellectually assent to the existence of God and be a terrible person. As the Epistle of James says: “……You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder.” (James 2:19) In other words, the demons and Satan himself know with certainty that God exists, but they are filled with such hatred of God that this kind of faith does them no good.
We need to trust God, to believe that God is there for us. How do we attain to this kind of faith? Partly this comes from looking at our lives. If we carefully review our life story, we can often see the hand of God guiding it. We can also learn this by looking at the lives of other people, whether they may be friends, family members or the saints.
One good way to strengthen this kind of faith is every night before sleep, look at the events of the day and our response to them. If we get in this habit it can help us to see God acting in our lives. Another way faith as trust is experienced is by answered prayer.
No doubt we can recall when God has answered our prayers. He may have not answered one prayer as quickly, or in the way we have imagined, but again when we look at our answered prayer we can see the hand of God.
Faith in both senses grows through the practice of our religion. We grow in faith through prayer, liturgy and the reading of scripture. If we neglect the practice of our religion we can hardly expect to maintain our faith.
We can see then that when we say “I believe in one God….” This is a response of our entire humanity, body, soul and spirit, to a reality which goes far beyond us, but is always present to us.