Since it is a troubling term for anyone, perhaps a good place to start is with defining exactly what is faith?
Anselm of Canterbury, offered the following definition of “faith”:
I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand.
(Anselm of Canterbury, Proslogion)
This is a classic definition of what is faith but is it a good definition?
What Faith Is Not
On the world stage, a group of outspoken critics challenge persons of all religious persuasions precisely because of this definition of faith. Not this definition specifically but because most people in our day assume this is what faith is. However, they could not be more wrong!
Opponents want to undermine religious people by labelling them as “ignorant” and “naïve”. For them, faith is nothing more than believing something without having any evidence for it. Faith, understood this way, merely fills in the gaps of one’s knowledge; it is wishful thinking at best or wilful ignorance at worst. Consider the following from Richard Dawkins:
Faith is an evil precisely because it requires no justification and brooks no argument.
The [person who suffers from faith] typically finds himself impelled by some deep, inner conviction that something is true, or right, or virtuous: a conviction that doesn’t seem to owe anything to evidence or reason, but which, nevertheless, he feels as totally compelling and convincing.
(Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion)
If Dawkins were correct in his assumptions about faith, then he would be correct to oppose such believers. And, unfortunately, he has met too many Christians who satisfy his caricature.
Faith is Being Sure and Certain
The definition of faith we find in the Bible could not be any more different:
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
(Hebrews 11:1, CSB)
This is not so much a definition of faith as it is a statement of how faith operates in human lives. The verses that follow describe examples of people who remained obedient and trusted God because they believed they would receive God’s favour, blessings, and their salvation. Their trust enabled them to perceive the supernatural qualities of Nature hidden to others, although no less real. Faith, then, is not defined by our beliefs, but by our trust in what and obedience to whom we believe.
The best illustration of this definition of faith can be found in a scene from the 1989 film, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, starring Harrison Ford and Sean Connery. The Indiana Jones character follows clues, recorded in the diary of his father, for the purpose of finding the Holy Grail. In one memorable scene, Indiana stumbles upon a great and deep chasm. The clues of his father tell him at this chasm he will discover,
The Path of God,
only in the leap from the lion’s
head will he prove his worth.
But, from such a great height, who would dare to jump? The character, Indiana, musters his courage and takes a step of faith … only he doesn’t fall, instead discovering a hidden bridge, on which he and his party can pass and draw closer to the treasure they sought.
Some would see Indiana Jones’ step out as an example of blind faith or wishful thinking, as if he had no reason to believe he would not fall, but stepped out anyway. The truth is Indiana had every reason to believe he would not fall. He was following his father’s clues, which had proven correct throughout the rest of their journey. When Indiana took that step, he was both trusting and obeying his father. He took the step not because he was 100% convinced. Indiana trusted his father enough for what he hoped for and this made him certain of what he did not see, so he obeyed.
Faith for Everyone
The fact is everyone lives by faith, even the smartest scientist. We can’t operate in this world without faith. For example, we step out into intersections believing cars will stop when the light is red. If we were not certain they would stop, we would be immobilised and never confident enough to leave our homes. We cross streets, travel by plane and carry our umbrellas, among other things, because we have enough information to guide our conduct each day.
The fact is everyone lives by faith, whether you believe it or not. You can pretend you don’t by changing the meaning of the word but you still behave as if you are sure about what you hope for and certain about what you believe because, in fact, you are.
Each of us choose in what, when, where, and how to use our faith. In this way, Anselm’s declaration, that we believe in order to understand, is not incorrect at all.
You believe some things without necessarily understanding them completely, but you do so with confidence. Once you appreciate faith is not what you believe but how you act on your beliefs, you will be more ready to investigate the truth of what you are being encouraged to believe.