Christianity is a religion of faith, yet we speak of other religions as “faiths”. We say the Hindu faith, the Muslim Faith etc… Yet we also, as Christians, believe that Faith is what sets the Christian religion apart from others. How is this?
Some distinctions are in order. The word faith has several meanings among which are belief and trust. Sometimes these two words are interchangeable. Sometimes they are not. We speak of the “Christian Faith” when we are referring to the set of beliefs that define Christianity as distinct from other faiths. These are set down in the creeds and confessions of the Church, most notably in the Nicene Creed which is sometimes called the Symbol of Faith. From the opening statement, “I believe in one God…” to the closing phrase, “and the life everlasting”, the essence of Christian belief is laid out. The Nicene creed is a touchstone of orthodoxy. If one does not believe or confess as true the things contained in it, one is not a Christian, by definition. These are the Faith of the Christian Church. They are it’s essential beliefs without which it could not be what it is. It should be clear that in this context the word Faith is applied as referring to the substance of belief. Those propositional statements which the Church has judged to be true regarding God, herself, salvation, and her eternal destiny. This is The Faith of the Church. It requires nothing of anyone but to believe the stated things are in fact true. One need not understand in order to believe; one must simply assent to their being factual.
There is another facet of the word Faith that, on the one hand seems to have little to do with The Faith but which in reality springs from it. The essence of this aspect of faith is trust.
When i was a child, there was often given as an illustration of Faith, a chair. I am standing and the chair is over there. I go and sit in the chair trusting that it will hold me up. This is certainly an inadequate example, but the point is made. If I didn’t believe the chair would hold me up, i wouldn’t sit in it. It is here that the illustration breaks down. Trust is less involved than simple belief. I believe the chair will hold me up because i have witnessed it doing so for others or even for myself in the past. I can test whether it is rickity or unstable and make a judgment about whether or not it can hold me up. There really is no trust involved, as trust, in its essence, requires a living, personal object. One can only trust persons, not things. That said, however, Trusting Faith cannot work except in a world where the things stated to be true by the Christian Faith are in fact true. Faith does not work in a Hindu world or a Buddhist world or a Muslim world. Those worldviews all revolve exclusively around their propositional faith. What then is the particular that sets Christianity apart? The answer may seem simple and perhaps naive but it is in fact the Living and True God who makes the difference.
Faith then, in this context is trusting in God. There is a sense in which the old gospel song is correct, “Faith is just believing what God says He will do”. But this comes terribly close to trusting in the propositions of the Faith which, though true, are powerless to help us on their own. Trusting in the propositions of the faith amounts in the end to trusting in ones own understanding of those propositions. When it comes right down to it, we really truly understand very little, even of the most basic theological things. The amount of baggage we bring with us to any religious text, including the Bible, is so profound that it cannot fail to radically influence how we understand what we read. This is not a good thing. We do not want the Bible or any other text to tell us simply what we are prepared to hear. We want it to tell us what we need to hear. We want to understand it truly, not simply in such a manner that it makes sense.
The purpose of Faith as trust is to strip away all pride. We should come to God humbly, as fully aware as possible of our gross ignorance of Him and His ways, yet with profound gratitude that He is in fact the Good God in whom there is no darkness at all neither shadow of turning. He is always truly and profoundly Good. Coming to God in trust is one of the most simple things to grasp in the whole world. Yet it is perhaps the most difficult thing on earth to do.
Jesus told us not to worry about anything. God, he said, knows our worldly needs and will provide for us. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these (worldly needs) will be added to you.” Often Jesus chided the disciples for their lack of Faith (trust). A dramatic example being when on the Sea of Galilee there came a strong storm so that the disciples despaired of life. Jesus was asleep in the boat. They woke Jesus up and said “Wake up! We are perishing! Don’t you even care?” Jesus replied, “Where is your faith?” He then rebuked the wind and the waves and the storm calmed and went away.
We can draw two things from this story. First, the disciples had no faith at the moment. What did they do? They relied on their own meager seamanship to save their lives. Only when that was obviously failing them did they turn to Jesus. Second, Jesus had faith in His Father so that he was wholly without worry and even fell asleep and took rest. What does this tell us about this kind of Faith? It tells us that Faith brings peace and calm. If we are worried, overly concerned or in despair we are faithless. Faith is then, trusting God for our daily needs. In turn, He provides for us according to our needs and we are set free from worry and fear. In fact, the act of trusting in God itself is the deliverance from worry and fear. We don’t have to wait until we see God provide. We know beforehand just as Abraham believed God and was confident that God was even able to raise Isaac from the dead if he were to offer him as a sacrifice.
It’s odd to me, though I am guilty as well of this, that Christians by and large trust in God for their eternal destiny but refuse to do so for their daily needs. Jesus himself taught us to pray “Give us this day our Daily Bread”. He further said of daily needs that “God knows you have need of all these things” and “You have not because you ask not.” That last phrase has been a bugger for me. I have spent literally thousands of prayers asking God for this and that…usually legitimate needs…only to have the prayer go unanswered. What I have learned is that though I was asking God for those things, I was still depending on myself to make them happen. I was not trusting in God to bring them to pass. Yes, God expects us to do what we can. But that does not mean we are to trust our own efforts. We are to work but trust God. As Oliver Cromwell said, “Trust God and keep your powder dry.” When we divorce our trust from ourselves and place it wholly on God, God will act. Is it any wonder that God says No to so many prayers when we are not trusting Him to make it happen? What would happen if God DID answer all those prayers? We would never learn to trust Him. We would go on doing things the same way all the time as if our efforts were the thing that worked. Eventually we would probably come to believe we were making things happen by our own effort and stop seeking God altogether.
So, finally, we have The Faith which describes the world in which God works and we have Trusting Faith which invites God to work in our lives. These two things together comprise the Christian experience of Faith.