Two contributors present brief essays in response to some
perennial questions. Each writes independently of the other. One comes
from a person closely linked to a Christian denomination. The other
comes from a person at the fringes of the traditional Church.
Is faith a necessary aspect of life?
The Bible�s Letter From James makes an important point about
Don�t just listen to God; do what God says. Otherwise you�re only
playing games. People who listen to God and do nothing are like those
who notice the bags under their eyes when they look into the mirror, and
then carry on with the lifestyle which makes them look so tired
This practical approach
to Christian living causes problems for some - especially those who say
we need only �faith� and not �works� to be accepted fully by God.
This sort of �faith� is
often construed as assent to theological propositions. So if a person
�believes� that Jesus is the Son of God, for example, then his or her
life (it is said) will be guided and strengthened by that belief.
Conversely, one who professes to be uncertain about such propositions is
generally regarded as of little faith.
But what happens if we
test this �faith as belief� in real life? We find that no two Christians
have exactly the same beliefs about God and about Christianity in
general. Not only that, but large groups of Christians differ so widely
in their propositions that they can�t bear to live with each other.
Indeed, they have often murdered each other in large numbers over these
differences. It seems that �faith as belief� has negative, not positive,
Martin Luther, for one,
had a different take on this. He said that, by analogy, faith isn�t the
belief that a boat won�t sink when we get into it: it�s actually
stepping into it, trusting that it won�t sink.
Faith as trust is much
more true to life. You and I may suppose that we trust a certain person;
but that is of little account until he or she acts to vindicate our
trust. I think to myself, �Jack seems reliable.� But not until Jack
consistently meets his commitments to me should I actually trust him. To
blindly assume that Jack will do what he promises is gullibility,
not faith in Jack.
Again, inflexible beliefs
tend to damage us. Few things are so personally and socially toxic as a group of fanatical ideologues who will sacrifice
themselves and (preferably) others for the sake of their so-called
In contrast, nothing in
our lives will work well without trust. It�s the basis of almost
everything we do. Without trust, trade and business would be impossible.
We usually trust a doctor to properly care for our health. We must trust
that even the bread we buy won�t harm us. No human relationship can
function without trust. We commit ourselves in relationships when we
risk that others will meet their side of the trust equation. Conversely,
trust once broken is difficult to restore. It�s as though trust operates
on an on-off switch: I either trust you or I don�t.
So faith as trust
permeates every aspect of our lives. It�s not optional, but necessary.
And trust isn�t trust until it issues in action. I can�t say I trust the
bread in the shop until I buy it.
Perhaps the ultimate
question in life is this: Can we trust God? Can we trust a �person� who
is more totally beyond us than even the most enduring mysteries of life
and the universe? Can we as it were step into a God-boat? Can we trust
that life - with all its agonies and joys, with its limited horizons and
boundless mysteries - is worth living zestfully for its own sake?
If we can - or if we at
least try - then, I say, we have faith.
be understood in a number of ways and contexts. In ordinary conversation
it is usually equated with religious belief. However, faith or
confidence in something unknown may be considered a part of everyday
life, a fundamental factor of the human psyche that permits persons to
in the unknown or untried usually arises from similar previous
experience. As for instance, each morning I arise from bed with
confidence there will be a floor on which my feet alight. I will then
with confidence, proceed to the bathroom for my morning ablutions. When
I am in a strange place my confidence for the smooth repetition of such
events is not as strong. Yet there are general features that allow me to
conduct my behavior in a similarly reliable pattern. At any point,
uncertainty may arise and my efforts can be confounded. Maybe there is a
loose item on the floor and I trip and fall leading to injury. One can
never be certain about future time. However, to be continually wary of
what might happen next, to relinquish a sense of confidence in the
likelihood of future events, would make daily life vexing if not
unbearable. Part of our living is in the unrealized future.
I am trying
to say that not only is faith necessary for living, but that it is an
unavoidable part of the reality of the human mind. One need not be
embarrassed or scandalized by adopting faith. It is ubiquitous.
crunch comes when we discuss the more esoteric objects of faith. It is
one thing to have faith there will be a floor under the bed and another
to say there is a benevolent loving God with whom I have a relationship.
Such a faith makes positivists livid. For me it is a comfort.
of faith is a personal choice. Such choices are the product of each
individual�s experience and reasoning. What works for one may not be
appealing to another. As for me at this stage in my life, my world view
requires a God who knows me. In that, I have faith. This faith was
developed through many years of study, contemplation and above all, by
exposure to the Saints with whom I had the good fortune to live.
For me the
epistemological problem of faith finds its solution in the goodness of
my church and my fellow parishioners. They are not perfect but they
strive for something above their own interests and to imitate the
example of Jesus Christ. Few human institutions can make such positive
contributions to civil society. Such faith is thereby validated.
gives me the mental tools to successfully navigate the treacherous
waters of life and to realize a rich full life experience, I would count
that as a valid test of faith. In this sense I am a pragmatist. I do not
think that religious pragmatism in any way dilutes the quality of my
faith. Thus far it has worked.