If you’re even generally familiar with apologetics, you have likely run into someone (or many someones) addressing the question, “What is faith?” Wait, wait, wait! Don’t check out on me just yet. I know you’re thinking, “Do we really need to do this again?” And the answer of course is, no. No we do not. There are many fabulous and insightful treatments on the issue by highly qualified people far smarter than me. To be honest, I am mainly addressing those who maybe don’t realize there is any issue over this at all. However, new looks or different perspectives can’t hurt, so even if this is old hat for you I hope you’ll hang around anyway.
Now, did you know there is a misunderstanding in culture (and even in some churches) about what exactly “faith” is? Seriously. The common refrain you will hear from secular culture and skeptics is that faith is something like “belief without evidence” or “wishful thinking” or as Mark Twain put it, “believing what you know ain’t so”.
But it is actually this definition that “ain’t so”.
Put simply: Faith is Trust.
Yep. It is that simple. When you say that you “have faith”, what you are saying is that you are putting your trust in that person or thing.
When you sat down, you put your faith in the chair to hold you up. You trusted that it would not deposit you with a painful thump onto the floor. See? Faith and trust are the same thing.
Now, think about this claim that faith is trusting with no evidence or for no reason. Does anyone REALLY trust in something for NO reason? Really?
Of course not. Nobody trusts for no reason.
They may not have a lot of reasons. They may not even have good reasons. But they do have some reason, and for them it appears sufficient at the time.
That doesn’t mean it’s true. That doesn’t mean their trust is well placed. All I am saying is that this caricature of faith being reason-LESS doesn’t make much sense.
Reasons (or evidence) build a bridge from belief A to belief B. The “bridge” is the argument or persuasion that says, “You can believe B.” However, simply having the bridge doesn’t get you anywhere. Faith is the decision to trust the “bridge” and cross over from belief A to accepting belief B.
Think about when you choose to eat at a new restaurant. You may not have thought about it in these terms, but what you are doing is trusting (having faith) that the food will be good and you won’t get sick from eating it.
What reason do you have to believe this?
There’s all kinds of reasons.
Maybe it has been suggested by friends with similar tastes as you. Maybe it got a good review from a critic. Maybe that cute friend-of-a-friend started working there, and it’s not the food you’re thinking about at all. But what else? We live in a society with health codes and safety codes that restaurants have to pass to stay in business. Even going all the way back to the farmers and manufacturers, there are health guidelines to help ensure food safety. We live in a capitalist society, and you know that the owner/employees have a vested interest in making sure you don’t get sick, because they want you to come back. Maybe they have a reputation for cleanliness. There’s no reports of any getting sick. Maybe it is a nice restaurant, and they require their cooks to have gone to culinary school.
You get the idea. So if you imagine our bridge example, each one of these reasons or evidences serves as a support for the bridge. You see that it is a strong case for believing that you will not get sick eating there.
So where does the faith/trust come in? When you actually order your meal and take a bite.
Argument and knowledge alone doesn’t make you trust something. Trust (or faith) is not passive. It is an act of the will.
OK, sure, ... but that’s a lot of good evidence for eating at a restaurant. Believing in an invisible God and an incarnated God-man dying on a cross and rising from the dead somehow forgiving sins? THAT surely requires the “lack of evidence” kind of faith. You’re going to need some pretty good stuff to build THAT bridge, right?
Well, not so fast. Even if you initially believe for very little reason – or not even a good reason - you can then have that trust/faith justified and bolstered by learning more evidence and reason after-the-fact that it was a good choice.
So what if, in the restaurant example, all you had was the “cute server I want to meet” as your reason for going?
Does that somehow negate all the other evidence and reason that you may not even know about or be thinking of? Of course not. It’s all perfectly valid even if not what is front and center in your mind.
The same goes with regards to Christianity and faith.
Some people come to trust in Christ because they thoroughly examine the “bridge”, determine it to be sound, and make the choice to cross it.
But what about those who just believe because their parents told them to? Or who just have an emotional experience and “cry out to God” out of desperation? For those people, in their situation, the “bridge” looked sufficient. Mom and Dad said so? Well, maybe Mom and Dad have proven themselves to be wise and knowledgeable. Or maybe it’s true that the person who has hit rock bottom or is drowning in sorrow or guilt will take whatever lifeline is thrown to them.
It is still the case, however, that they have a “reason” ... even if their “bridge” at the time looked like a rickety pitiful little thing ... it was still enough for them to believe.
Then later, as they look back from the other side they can see that it wasn’t actually such a small, pitiful bridge after all, but well supported and well established and well worth putting their faith in.