Thoughts on Faith
I have thought about some topics for decades now. But it is always wonderful to come across someone who can shed new light on an old subject. One such topic I have pondered for years is faith. Anyone who has engaged religion in any form probably has thought about faith. I reckon I first thought about faith---what it is and how it works---as early as high school. Perhaps I thought about it even earlier than that, but I can’t remember. However, I am sure faith was involved in my life long before I thought about it!
To be sure, faith is a word that is usually involved with religion and the religious journey. I would even use it with respect to spirituality, assuming there is some difference between religion and spirituality. But faith is not simply a word used in conjunction with religion. And I would contend, it is not a religious word. Rather, I might call it a human word. If you are human, faith is part of your vocabulary and part of your life.
My earliest forays into faith led me to believe faith was something people “had in God.” Growing up in that Quaker context, I often heard people say they “had faith in God.” In my naïve mind I assumed at first we did not have faith and, then, for some reason we came to have faith. My little world assumed that everyone would come to faith at some point. Sometimes people got it at a revival. Some of us went to a revival, but never got it! I belonged to this second camp.
I was helped the most when I went to college and, then, on to graduate school. I learned some foreign languages, which oddly enough, helped me develop my faith. There were days I wondered why I was bothering with Greek and learning more Latin. They seem perfectly useless to most people and most things people were doing in the world. But I plunged on. And some bits of revelation began to happen.
One of the earliest things I learned was the fact that in classical languages, faith is a verb, as well as a noun. When I read the New Testament in Greek, I realized there was a translation problem. To use bad English to illustrate the point, I wanted to translate a sentence like this; “He faithed the gospel.” Good English would have to say, “He believed the gospel.” Typically, we have to use the word, believe to get a verb for “faithed.” Or sometimes, we switch to the word, trust. To say I have faith in you, I normally would say “I trust you.”
This made a big difference for me. Of course, faith can be a noun. I can say I do have faith in my two daughters. But I also “faith” them---that is, I trust them. I want both the verb and the noun. It was a big difference because it enabled me to see that faith can be a process. When I say it can be a process, I mean that it can extend over time. It is not necessarily an event---that is, a one-time thing. I never felt like I could lock in faith and never have to worry about it again. For me, it seems like it is always in process. I always have to keep believing.
This is where I was when I read a piece from a recent book by a poet, Christian Wiman, entitled, My Bright Abyss. He says, “Faith is not some hard, unchanging thing you cling to through the vicissitudes of life. Those who try to make it into this are destined to become brittle, shatterable creatures…so too faith is folded into change, is the mutable and messy process of our lives rather than any fixed, mental product.” “Yes,” I wanted to exclaim, “That’s true!”
Wiman put it as I experience it. Faith is not an unchanging thing. Even if I wake tomorrow and seem to have the same faith I had today, it only looks that way. If faith is a process, as I believe it is, then when I wake tomorrow, I will trust all over again. I will need to “faith” God one more day. This is not some minor thing. I know people claim they have “lost faith.” What this means to me is the process of trusting can be derailed or submarined…or whatever verb of losing you want to use.
If I do not wake up tomorrow and claim again that process of trusting---“faithing”---I will have begun the process of losing my faith. I know that faith establishes a relationship---with God or anyone else. Without some regular attention to the relationship, that relationship will begin to sour. It probably won’t instantly happen, but the process of “losing faith” will have begun.
Although I gave this meditation the title, “Thoughts on Faith,” I confess that much of the faith I experience is not intellectual or cognitive. This means that I generally do not consider faith to be just an idea. I also do not see it as a doctrine of religion. It is more of a heart-word to me. Trust (faith) as a verb is a heart thing, not a concept. I can talk about my faith when I objectify it. But faith is not an object.
Faith is a process establishing a relationship that needs to be nurtured and nourished. Those are my thoughts on faith.