I notice that, more and more these days, people refer to themselves as “a person of faith”, and I do like the phrase. It covers a wide variety of meanings, and helps to correct something that I have never found helpful. There has been a false assumption that “religious” people, Christians included, believe things without reason. Faith, in that sense, came to mean “believing without evidence, or in spite of evidence”. The phrase became “blind faith”, as if a Christian had to turn off their brain and simply accept something “on faith”.
That is a completely false definition of faith, as it applies to Christians, but not, as it happens, as it applies to society at large. Christians are expected and encouraged by Scripture to examine and ask questions, and are even instructed by Peter to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have”. [1 Peter 3:15] This is also why Jesus repeated the words of Deuteronomy, but added an important phrase: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. Jesus added “all your mind”.
Faith, for a Christian, means trusting. At first, this may be based simply on believing what you’re told because you trust the one telling you. Later, that must grow into a trust that is based on knowledge, like a man or woman who trusts his partner because they have come to know each other so well. After 45 years of being a Christian, I can honestly say that I believe my Lord because, in all that time, he has never failed me, never let me down. Times were not always fun, the dark night of the soul is not just a poetic concept. But, looking back, I can agree with Paul when he wrote to the Roman Christians: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[i] have been called according to his purpose” [Romans 8.28].
But I would go further and say that every one of us is a “person of faith”, whether you believe in God or not. We all have to live by faith, in the sense that we have to trust the word of people for things we can’t know ourselves. We get into a car and drive, trusting that the people who built it knew what they were doing and the wheels are not going to fall off. Think of astronauts who went to the Moon. They had to trust completely that the rocket would get them there and back, that the mathematics were properly calculated to ensure they could hit the right target, land, take off again, and return to a safe landing on Earth.
They were not all engineers or mathematicians: they had to have faith in those who were. The first flight was, perhaps, a leap of faith; but subsequent flights were undertaken on a different kind of faith. They knew from experience that they could trust the people behind them. Paul says something similar to this to his friend Timothy. Although he was going through some rough times, facing strong opposition and sometimes despairing of life itself, he could say with confidence: “Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day”[2 Timothy 1.12].
Faith is nothing to be ashamed of, because Christian faith is based on knowing, on trusting someone who is trustworthy. It is based over time on knowing the facts, the evidence which underpins and supports faith, that there are reasons for faith in God that are intellectually valid. Those who claim that Christians believe blindly and in the face of evidence don’t know what they’re talking about. Unlike the people they deride, they have never tested the evidence, often they have never even read the materials or researched the facts of the case.
We all live by faith. The question is: what have you put your faith in, what is it you are trusting in your life? The majority of people do not think about why they believe what they do, why they live as they do, and upon what foundation have they built their lives. What is at the centre of our lives? Money, possessions, power, status? Have you thought about this at all? We are all going to die one day, and none of that will matter in the end. That is no cause for fear for a Christian, “because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day”. Or in the words of the great Larry Norman: “I know where I am going, I know who I should be. Don’t care how long it takes me, there’s lots of things to see. Let the tape keep rollin”.