“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1
In modern society’s expanding secularity, faith is losing ground; at least, this is true of religious faith. Faith, to the ever more scientific mind of the common-man, is growing steadily useless and without value. “What good or use is faith?” Asks the modern believer in the scientific method. This is really a good question, and one that I’m sure most people, especially religious skeptics, have failed to pursue with any rigor. And before the religious among you get all high-handed, I’d add that, in all probability–neither have you.
The question of what faith is, has birthed many debates across history. Theologians and lay persons have sought certainty about what faith is so they could know what was necessary to possess it. When I use the word faith, as in “I have faith in X”, I do not mean that I have confidence in X, or that I hope X is true; I am claiming to know X is true. And I only use the term in the absence of proof. For myself, faith needs uncertainty. Without it, faith is unnecessary, and all we need do is memorize the facts.
Fortunately, for the faithful, uncertainty surrounds us. Every future second does not exist except in our faith. There is no CSI team on Earth who can discover evidence of God. There are no experts writing texts on the immortal souls of humankind. We need faith to feel anchored in the world, to offer some answers to the questions that haunt us: Where did we come from? What lies in our future, beyond the hour of our death? In truth, “We walk by faith, not by sight.”
Scientists need some faith too, I think. Some of the factors used in their studies are very mysterious. Time has never been seen or measured. It has no direct effect in our cause and effect universe, therefore it is undetectable. It does not flow through clocks, yet the scientist knows it is there–somehow. Newton’s laws of conservation assert that energy cannot be created or destroyed and Einstein’s theory of relativity shows that energy and matter are forms of the same thing, so in view of the laws of conservation, where did all of the matter/energy in the universe come from?Mysterious indeed.
Even in the face of obvious needs for faith, how do we know its value? My personal answer arises from my days of clinical depression and subsequent unemployment. I learned the value of faith when it was tested. When I looked in the face of pain and knew I could end it–that was a test. When I lost my teaching position because I wasn’t getting better–that was a test. Like so many aspects of life, my sense of faith’s value remained abstract and unquantifiable until it was lost or tested. Had I not had faith in my life’s redemption, the hopelessness would have crushed my spirit like an apple blossom underfoot.
In the midst of my darkest days, did I doubt? Absolutely. My faith is as imperfect as I am. But at some level, I knew my doubt did not diminish my need or render me incapable of faith. The path of faith is not being impervious to doubt. It is simply the stubborn refusal to let doubt have the last word. And so I held on, even when I felt like a failure. Faith’s value remained with me.
Faith is more valuable than diamonds but just as hard. When Peter stood next to Jesus on the water–his faith faltered. Here I am, two thousand years distant in time and unknowable space, how could I expect to be different? Nevertheless, I continue to value faith, even when it’s flawed. Now, my prayer is, if life slips into darkness again, may I remember that my life is what it is, not what I ask for. May I find the strength to bear it, the grace to accept it, the faith to embrace it.