What is faith? I asked at our local ICPF cell group. One replied, “Believing in something unseen”. Another said, “Believing without any proof”. Another said it is written in Hebrews 11:1. I said, “If you are going to quote the bible, you better be ready to explain what that verse means!”. We all laughed. Then the youngest in the group said “If I lend my book to my friend, I have faith that he will return it to me”. I said, “Exactly, that is what faith is!”. Then I went on and explained a little bit, but because I wasn't prepared to deal with this topic, I wasn't able to explain in detail. When I was coming back home from the cell group I thought, many people don't understand this. I thought, I will write about it, and deal with this question in detail in the next cell group.
So that is how this post came to be. In this post I would like to do 3 things.
- Explain superstition
- Explain faith
- Explain christian faith
The first issue we are going to deal with is superstition. So from where did superstition come in the discussion of faith? Well, the second answer I received to my question in the cell group, “Believing without any proof” is actually very close to the definition of superstition, and in fact a lot of people mistakenly think that faith and superstition are synonymous but of course, they are mistaken! But before we go into the topic of faith let's put superstition under the microscope and analyze it. The definition of superstition would be something like this: Believing in something without any proof or reason, and holding onto that belief even if evidence is presented against that belief. (Keep in mind the two words, proof and reason. They might do a trick.) I think the problem with a superstitious person is, he doesn't want to think. They accept pretty much anything they hear without giving it much thought. A little bit of education can easily erase any superstitions.
However, a lot of sane people, myself included (except the sane part, of course!) have no interest in educating these superstitious people. I have no interest in explaining things to people who themselves don't want things explained. I have no interest in disproving what is not. I think the worst thing you can do with your time is to try to disprove things that don't exist or isn't real. (If you don't agree, do this: Take a paper and a pen, and then start disproving that the shape of the planet earth is square. I'm sure after some time we will be buddies.) And for that reason, there are still superstitions left in this so called “post-modern” age. That I think sums up pretty much all that there is to superstitions.
That leads us to the second topic. Faith. I said that people who think faith and superstition are synonymous are mistaken. The reason is this: One of the antonym for superstition is rational, which in turn is synonymous to reasonable. And faith, is reasonable. What do I mean by faith is reasonable? Behind every sensible faith or belief there is a reason. A faith without reason is no different than superstition. So the difference between superstition and faith is this: Superstition is not reasonable, faith is. Let me illustrate the difference with examples. First superstition: A cat crossing one's path is bad omen. You get the idea, there is no reason to believe that because a cat crossed one's path, bad things will happen to that person. Yet, some people believe it to be true without any reason or proof.
Now, onto the example of faith. I will use the example that was given in the cell group.”If I lend my book to my friend, I have faith that he will return it to me”. So what is the reason behind him thinking that his friend will return his book? Because he knows his friend. Maybe he has lent books in the past and they were safely returned. Because of his dealings with his friend in the past, he has reason to believe that his book will be returned safely. Now if he had said “if I lend my book to a stranger, I have faith that he will return it to me” that would be superstition. So basically faith means “Because someone has behaved in a certain way in the past I think they will continue to behave the same way in the future.” That is why you can not point your finger to a stranger and say “That guy/girl is faithful.” You can only say that about a person you have known for some time. I think that explains the point of faith being reasonable reasonably well.
Remember, after the definition of superstition I told you to something about two words? Sorry to disappoint you guys but those two aren't going to do any tricks here. Because faith is sick of being called superstition(that's why they called me! I'm the doctor!). The reason I told you to remember that is to understand the difference between superstition and faith. We have seen the difference in the matter of reason. Let us look at the difference in the matter of proof. Superstition has no proof because it isn't real. However faith can not have a proof. Because the very moment faith has it's proof, the faith is no more. Faith transforms into truth. So the cause of faith is reason and the result of faith is truth unless faith is violated. We will get to the violation part soon. But first let me properly explain what I mean by what I just said. Let's take a look at the example of faith I used earlier. When his friend returns his book, will he have faith about his friend returning his book? No. Because his friend doesn't posses the book anymore. The friend has returned it. So what once was faith has already become the truth. Faith applies only to the things that are unknown. The moment it becomes known, there is no need of faith. I think we need to fix the meaning of faith in light of this new revelation. It would be like this: Because someone has behaved in a certain way in the past I think they will continue to behave the same way in the future or when I'm not looking.
Up until now, it was smooth sailing and we didn't need to go deeper into the concept of faith because we were only discussing the differences between superstition and faith. However, faith is much more than just those differences and to understand the topic of violation of faith, we need to dissect faith. As far as I can understand it, there are 3 parts to the concept of faith.
- The person putting his faith
- The object on which faith is placed upon (I use the word object because faith is not limited to human-human relationships. For example, you can have faith in your dog. The reason I put the word “person” in the first part is because I believe only “persons” or “humans” will read this post. If you are something else, I apologize.)
- The subject of faith (This needs to be mutually agreed upon. In the example that I have used, returning the book is mutually agreeable. However if his friend says that I will not return the book, that might not be mutually agreeable.)
Disclaimer: I have read no faith theory or faithology. Nor do I have any idea if one exists. I have named the three parts as I understand it and if there is any such thing as official jargon to describe these parts, please pardon my ignorance.
So, in the example of faith that we have used, “He” is the person putting his faith, “his friend” is the object on which faith is placed upon and “return the book” is the subject of faith. So what is the violation of faith? It is an event in which the object on which the faith is placed upon does not behave in a way that corresponds to the subject of faith. So for our example the violation would be “his friend doesn't return his book”. Which means when his friend told him that he will return the book, he lied(of course, in real world, this may not mean that the friend was lying and there might be a genuine reason behind him not being able to return the book. However, here, for hypothetical purposes, I am simplifying the situation). So the preservation of faith results in truth(as in, the subject of faith becomes real) and violation of faith results in disclosure of a lie.
Is there any other mystery that faith holds? I can think of one more. It is this: Faith can increase or decrease over time. Up until now, we were analyzing faith on a single case bases. Now we are going to put faith in the context of a relationship. How does faith increase or decrease? What does relationships have to do with that? Preservation of faith increase faith and violation of faith decreases faith. I will again use the same example to illustrate the point. In a relationship, over time,”He” will have to put his faith on “his friend” for more than one time for different “subjects”. Now every time the faith is preserved by “his friend”, “his” faith on “his friend” will increase. In the same way, every time the faith is violated by “his friend”, “his” faith on “his friend” will decrease. You wouldn't want to trust a liar, would you?
Faith can increase of decrease. So what? Why is that important? It is important because relationships are dependent upon faith. The more trust between the individuals, the thicker the bond of relationship is between them. So the preservation of faith is the key of building relationships. But enough about relationships, we are talking about faith here so let's move on.
I want to mention a very interesting observation here, it is not a major point, but it is important. Humans like being trusted by someone and they dislike being doubted. It doesn't matter if the doubt is valid or not, fact is, humans don't like being doubted.(notice the period) I think it is because doubt accuses you of being a liar. And a truthful person doesn't want to be called a liar because it's not fair and a liar doesn't want to be called a liar because it reveals him for what he is. However that topic also, is out of the scope of this post.
Before we go on to the last topic, let me summarize the points:
- Superstition: Believing in something without any proof or reason, and holding onto that belief even if evidence is presented against that belief.
- Faith: Because someone has behaved in a certain way in the past I think they will continue to behave the same way in the future, or when I'm not looking.
- Differences between faith and reason:
- Faith is reasonable. Superstition has no reason behind it.
- Faith can not have a proof. Superstition has nothing to do with proofs because proofs are real, but superstitious beliefs does not correspond to reality.
- Violation of faith: It is an event in which the object on which the faith is placed upon does not behave in a way that corresponds to the subject of faith.
- the preservation of faith results in truth and violation of faith results in disclosure of a lie.
- In a relationship, preservation of faith increases faith and violation of faith decreases faith.
So how is the christian faith any different from normal faith? Well fundamentally, it isn't different at all. However the equation of faith changes drastically because God enters the equation. The object on which faith is placed upon changes from from natural to supernatural and from mutable to immutable. What difference does it make? Let me explain.
First, we will deal with natural and supernatural. But before going further, I'd like to tell you in which meaning I have used the word natural. By natural, I mean limited by the laws of nature. A natural being is limited but a supernatural is not. Because supernatural one has created the nature. So when the object is changed from natural to supernatural, it is not bound by the situations or circumstances around it. It means, God is not dominated by his circumstances. There are no circumstances that can dominate God because circumstances can not exist unless God creates them.
In our example, if the borrowed book falls into fire, his friend will not be able to return it. His friend is limited. He can not bring the book back from the ashes. God can. So let's make his friend is a christian. The book fell into the fire. So, he prays to God for help. If he dares to pray to God to solidify the book from the ashes, I think his prayer is reasonable considering to whom he is praying to. For people who say that no such thing can happen, let me say, I haven't seen books solidify from ashes but I have certainly seen my share of supernatural things that nature can not explain.
That brings us to the second point. Immutability of God. Immutability means “Not subject or susceptible to change”. If the subject of faith is agreed upon by both parties(a christian and God), christian faith will never be violated. It's more like it can not be violated. Because if God says anything, it is so. It comes to be true. God because who he is, can not violate faith. So if the object on which faith is placed upon is perfect, the subject of faith is agreed upon by both parties(a christian and God) then the result of that faith will always be the truth. In the sense that what you believe will come to be real. But…
Remember, I told another point. Humans like being trusted by someone and they dislike being doubted. Where do you think that trait comes from? From our maker, because God created us in his own image. God also dislikes being doubted. Bible says this not I, for it is written:
Hebrews 11:6: And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (ESV)
Would you like to be in a relationship with a fellow who constantly doubts you even when you have given him no reason to doubt you? Would you be pleased at that fellow? Would you like to continue the relationship with him? Answer this questions and you will understand what the term “christian faith” actually means. All the activity that is needed for christian faith to sustain is only on the part of christian. God doesn't have to do anything special to be faithful. He only needs to be who he already is. It is only the christian that needs to believe. There is no question of doubt. There is no question like “if God will do it or not?”. He always will. That is why christians say things like “you must have faith” or “put your trust in God”. So let me end this long discussion by saying “Just believe in him”. I think you will now understand the weight and reasoning behind those words.