Faith and Religious Faith
“Faith isn’t believing without proof – it’s trusting without reservation.” ~Rev. William Sloane Coffin
Just as Hope is an intrinsic value of all religions, so too is Faith. In fact, the idea of faith is so deeply connected with religion that the word “faith” is often used as a synonym for “religion.”
As time-tested spiritual paths, religions of all cultures have at least one thing in common: they all offer a prescription for conduct that promises us peace of mind and success in this life and/or the next. All religious faiths offer principles for living that “faithful” adherents rely on — or have faith in — that enable them to lead meaningful, successful, fulfilling lives.
Of course there is more to religion than just this prescription for morality. Many offer complex systems of belief blending history, mythology, and metaphor; explanations of the origins and nature of humankind; cosmologies and speculation about agencies that govern the universe. Many also fulfill a social role in binding a culture together via a shared language and value system, and they often spawn institutions of government and education.
But metaphysical speculation and the cultural roles played by religious institutions are barely relevant to many of us as individuals. Church socials and pondering life after death might be fun, but what most of us really seek is guidance that shows us how to live in a way that makes sense and feels right. We need help to meet life’s challenges with confidence and hope rather than fear and despair, and we want to grow spiritually and learn to participate in life to the fullest extent of our abilities.
We seek faith to assure us that life is not pointless. We need to know — especially when times are tough, in times of loss, persecution, war, disease — that there’s more to life than just stuffing ourselves with ice cream or filling our closet with shoes. We need to know there’s a meaningful reason for living, that our efforts to better our own character, to do the right thing, to be good citizens and raise conscientious children, all still have value even when life doesn’t turn out as we planned.
This knowledge — this certainty that transcends belief, even though we can’t prove it in the sense we can prove 1+1=2 — is what we speak of when we speak of faith.
One of the most famous scriptural passages about faith is Hebrews 11:1:
“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
Here faith is described as something substantial, not some wispy belief. It’s described as evidence, not unsubstantiated wishful thinking. The evidence of things not seen is a far cry from belief in things there’s no reason to believe exist.
Who among us has ever seen an electron? How many of us understand the mathematics that describe the behavior of subatomic particles? Yet how many of us have faith in the atomic theory of matter, even though we have only the haziest idea of how it’s supposed to work? Our faith is based on evidence and experience — and though very few of us have any direct experience with nuclear physics, we are happy to accept as evidence the reports of experts and credible witnesses who claim such experience.
How many of us have ever seen the love our spouse has for us, or even our own love for our spouse and children? Yet we know it exists. We have faith in it based on the evidence of our own feelings and what we have witnessed in others’ behavior.
As the Apostle Paul wrote in II Corinthians 5:7, “We live by faith, not by sight.”
Finally, we may have heard it said that “faith drives out fear.” It’s virtually impossible to suffer anxiety, worry, fear when we’re dwelling fully in faith. Think of the examples of First Century Christians so steeped in faith that they bravely met horrifying martyrdoms. Think of the times in our own lives when we were frazzled with worry, only to feel a deep sense of relief and calm when we remembered that God is in charge and put our faith in Him.
Whether Christian or not, we may each learn something valuable about faith from Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, as presented in Matthew 6:25-34:
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
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“Faith is different from proof; the latter is human, the former is a Gift from God.” ~ Pascal
“In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don’t.” ~ Pascal
“Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.” ~ Paul Tillich
“Faith is to believe what we do not see, and the reward of this faith is to see what we believe.” ~ Saint Augustine
“Faith is much better than belief. Belief is when someone else does the thinking.” ~ R. Buckminster Fuller
“Christianity is not a message which has to be believed, but an experience of faith that becomes a message.” ~ Edward Schillebeeckx
“Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Faith is not something to grasp, it is a state to grow into.” ~ Gandhi
“Faith… must be enforced by reason… when faith becomes blind it dies.” ~ Gandhi
“Faith is a bird that feels dawn breaking and sings while it is still dark.” ~ Rabindranath Tagore
“Scepticism is the beginning of Faith.” ~ Oscar Wilde
“Faith means belief in something concerning which doubt is theoretically possible” ~ William James
“To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.” ~ Saint Thomas Aquinas
“Faith is an oasis in the heart which can never be reached by the caravan of thinking” ~ Kahlil Gibran
Links to more information:
“What Is Faith?”, an extensive article describing faith from ucg.org
From ChristCenteredMall.com, a collection of Biblical teachings on faith
Martin Luther’s definition of faith
On the Meaning of Faith in Islam
Paul Tillich, Dynamics of Faith Influential Christian theologian Tillich distinguishes faith from belief and explores the transformative role of faith based on reason in a religious context. Reinhold Niebuhr, author of the Serenity Prayer, has called Paul Tillich “a giant among us,” and this slender primer in the philosophy of religion “a little classic.”
Francis S. Collins, belief: readings on the reason for faith A collection of writings from numerous influential thinkers through the ages exploring the rational bases for religious faith.
Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be an Atheist Geisler and Turek explore contemporary arguments for and against faith in God and Jesus Christ.
Harry Emerson Fosdick, The Meaning of Faith A daily devotional reader aimed at developing and strengthening faith, by the pastor of the Riverside Church in NYC who was influential in the early days of AA.