Monday, 26 February 2007

Faith

There's a lot of confusion about what faith is. A lot of people use it to mean simply "irrational belief", or even "counter-rational belief". This is confusing because I think it's not what Christians mean when they talk about faith. More specifically, it's not what the Bible means. For example, Abraham is described as a paragon of faith, even though God appeared to him and spoke to him several times. Abraham's faith wasn't grounded in ignorance or uncertainty.

So what is it? Hebrews says

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

and goes on to list "heroes of faith", including Abraham:
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
Then later
They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.

What Abraham "hoped for" and "did not see" was not the existence of God himself, but the eventual fulfillment of God's promises to him. That's what his faith was about.

Why is that commendable? If Abraham had been some kind of Mesopotamian Vulcan, logic would dictate that after God appeared to him the first time, following God's instructions would be the only reasonable course of action forever after. But of course it doesn't work like that for anyone, because we're all weak. Everyone, Christian or not, has times when we clearly know what we should do but simply lose heart and capitulate. For Christians, this means that we simply don't trust God enough. We may intellectually be convinced that he exists, that he loves us, and all that good stuff, but we effectively decide in our hearts "I'd better take my pleasure now because I'm not sure obeying God is a net win".

Faith isn't just something we have in relation to God either. I'm firmly convinced that working on Firefox is the right thing for me to be doing, but sometimes I don't feel it, and I'm tempted to skive off and spend time on something else. I honestly profess that everyone will be happier in the long run if I am a good husband and father, but there's always a temptation to be a selfish beast, even in situations where I know that it's going to hurt me in the long run. I need faith in my original convictions in order to get me through those temptations, to live in light of that unseen reward, whatever it may be. This faith is more about trust and loyalty than "mere belief". Ironically, in this sense faith is particularly rational.



10 comments:

  1. No need for all those mental acrobatics:
    http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?sourceid=Mozilla-search&va=faith
    1 a : allegiance to duty or a person : LOYALTY b (1) : fidelity to one's promises (2) : sincerity of intentions
    2 a (1) : belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2) : belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion b (1) : firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2) : complete trust
    3 : something that is believed especially with strong conviction; especially : a system of religious beliefs
    The most relevant to me:
    "firm belief in something for which there is no proof"
    And no, drawing some (thin) correlation between faith and rationality does not rationally explain believing in a supreme being (a god). IMO. YMMV.

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  2. Robert O'Callahan26 February 2007 20:52

    It does not make sense to choose your preferred definition from the dictionary and apply it to someone else's usage, regardless of context.
    > And no, drawing some (thin) correlation between
    > faith and rationality does not rationally explain
    > believing in a supreme being (a god).
    That was not the point here.

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  3. And no, drawing some (thin) correlation between a scientist's thesis and rationality does not rationally explain believing in an unprovable (scientific) theory. IMO. YMMV.

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  4. And no, drawing some (thin) correlation between faith and rationality does not rationally explain believing in the religion of no supreme being (atheism). IMO. YMMV

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  5. Thanks, I enjoyed that.. sorry I don't have anything insightful to add however :)

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  6. Thank you for writing that, it really helped me. Sometimes it is indeed easy to lose sight of the important things in life, especially when all the pressure mounts up, so thanks for reminding me what faith in God is.

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  7. It seems like many have missed the point of this article. IMO it seems like Robert is trying to define faith and how it pertains to him, not to prove the existence of God. People have faith in lots of things (their cars, their jobs, spouse, money, etc.), it's just people's opinion of God makes a big impact in all of those areas.
    Thanks for the great post, Robert. Keep being real.

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  8. You may enjoy "Faith is not a Feeling" by Ney Baily, which deals with Faith in God's promises, or leading, and crosses paths with the content of your post on numerous points. Originally released in 1979, it is now in its third edition and a copy has settled into the bookshelf where I keep my favorite books.
    I actually like the definition chosen in the first comment: "Firm belief in something for which there is no proof." This is where evidence comes in. We all believe in many things for which there is no "proof", instead we rely on a scale-tipping collection of evidence. That kind of belief is called faith.
    Faith in God is probably the most interesting application of faith. Its often phrased that way, "Faith in God", but is used to mean either "Faith in the existance of God" or "Faith in the goodness, the love of God". Very different things. Christians, by definition, adhear to the first application rather easily, but faith in God's goodness toward us usually requires much more detailed definition... are there strings attached to the "goodness", how is something determined to be "good", etc.
    Quoting the post: "For Christians, this means that we simply don't trust God enough. We may intellectually be convinced that he exists, that he loves us, and all that good stuff, but we effectively decide in our hearts I'd better take my pleasure now because I'm not sure obeying God is a net win."
    What a sad state. We believe He loves us but are not sure obeying Him is a net win!? To be honest with ourselves, we either don't believe He really loves us, completely, always. Or, we are just after short-term payoffs, which seems like an illogical way to live in general: focusing on the short term while acknowledging there will be a long term. To me, that boils down to pure chaos. Which is essentially how I would define the concept of sin: chaos, ultimately illogical, self-destructive behavior.
    Thanks for the stimulating post. Sorry for the looong comment.

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  9. Robert O'Callahan28 February 2007 11:02

    I agree, it is a sad state of sin and chaos. I'm sorry if that wasn't clear.

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  10. Personally, I find that faith and will are closely knitted together in God's eyes.
    We can have our faith in God, but without acting out the will of God through our faith, it's meaningless. Book of Ecclessiastes IIRC.

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