Something cool happens to us when we have something to believe in. Some project or idea so captures our imagination that we want to give ourselves completely to it. We become dedicated to it. Perhaps it leads us to support a cause, take up a new role, perhaps to make a commitment of time, energy or money.
Whatever it is, this new cause awakens us. We believe in what we are doing, and we commit ourselves to it with our whole being. We continue to push forward even when obstacles arise or doors close. Because we believe in our dream.
We give ourselves wholeheartedly to it, because at some deep level – beyond the level of common sense or logic – we know that it is the right thing for us to do. We believe in this.
This is what faith is about.
But what does it really mean to have faith?
This is an important question because for many people, faith is AGREEMENT. To have faith means to agree with a proposition, to believe that something is true. There are many Christians who understand their faith in this way. They have given intellectual agreement to certain claims or statements about God, about Jesus, about the Bible. But when faith is understood this way, it becomes a matter of the head rather than of the heart. When faith is agreement, the emphasis shifts to holding the correct views, believing the right things.
We must recognize how this notion of faith – faith as giving agreement to a proposition, or believing that a claim or statement is true – distorts our understanding of faith. What we believe to be true – about God, about Jesus, about the scriptures – then defines us and sets us apart from those who do not see things as we see them. Groups form and split. Some are considered “in” while others are “out,” depending on their “beliefs.”
The opposite of this kind of belief is doubt or disbelief. When we suspect that some claim or statement might not be true, or might have to be understood differently than we understood it before, we enter this gray area of doubt. If we imagine that belief is what God wants of us, then doubt or disbelief become sinful. You may need to think about that for a few minutes.
Faith is about Trust, not Belief
Knowing what we believe and being able to articulate it is important, but if this is all our faith is about, we have not gone deep enough. Authentic faith has more to do with the heart than with the head. Real faith is trust. Real faith is a radical TRUST in God. It does not mean trusting in the truth of a set of statements about God; it means trusting in GOD.
What does it mean to trust in God?
Soren Kierkegaard, a philosopher and follower of Jesus of the 19th century, said faith was like floating in a deep ocean. If we panic and struggle, if we tense up and thrash about, we will eventually sink. But if we relax and trust, we will float, no matter how deep the water.
In the same way, we could say that to have faith is to trust in God, to believe in God’s ability to sustain us, to hold us up, even in difficult circumstances. Faith [trust] helps us to relax and let go, to rest and find peace.
When faith is understood as trust rather than agreement, its opposite is not doubt, but lack of trust. When we do not trust, we become anxious and fearful. To have faith means to let go of anxiety and fear, and to give ourselves over to God, trusting God’s love and care for us.
Consider the story from the Bible about the disciples after Jesus’ death. They are gathered in a closed room, behind locked doors, filled with anxiety and fear. They have lost sight of the purpose for which God called them, the task Jesus gave them, to be signs of God’s love and proclaim God’s good news. They feel abandoned, alone and overwhelmed.
Jesus comes to them with a greeting of peace. He breathes the Holy Spirit on them. He restores their vision, their hope, their faith. They trust once more. Their fear is gone, and these trembling disciples are transformed into courageous witnesses, who testify to the resurrection of Jesus with incredible boldness, even in the face of opposition and death. They trust in the power of God. Their eyes are fixed on God. They move forward in faith, despite the obstacles.
There is much to fear in the world today. We fear our enemies and those who want to harm us. We fear nuclear war; we fear guns and violence in our streets. We fear global warming and its consequences. We fear hatred, crime, poverty and oppression, chaos and suffering. Some of us are afraid that we might lose what we have. We fear for our future and the future of our children.
But the Bible says, “perfect love casts out fear,” and, “God is love.” God’s perfect love overcomes fear and casts it out. Love holds us and sustains us, regardless of what may come our way. Trust your lives and all your concerns to your loving Father.
We must work against violence and war, we must respond to global warming, we must counter hatred and violence – we are called to this. But we don’t need to be paralyzed by it. Father is in our present, and will be in our future, just as Father has been in our past. There is no power in the world that can overcome God’s and nothing can separate us from the love of God.
Do not be afraid. Only believe.