What Is Faith?

I’ve heard for years that faith in God is like sitting in a chair. I’ve even demonstrated that idea myself a few times. Pointing to a chair I’d say that putting faith in God is like sitting in this chair. I trust that I won’t fall over backwards and crack my skull. Then I’d sit in the chair and wait for everyone to affirm their immediate trust in God.

Faith Is NOT Like Sitting In a Chair.

Farmer in rocking chair reading "The Progressive Farmer"

For one, I don’t even think when I sit in a chair. Should we equate the belief that guides our lives with a process that requires no thought?

I also came across this quote a while back from a site called Living Theology:

“Some people use the illustration of having faith that a chair will support your weight allows you to confidently sit in it. Well what happens to your “faith” when the chair breaks? …Sitting in a chair and riding in an airplane are not acts of faith, but rather acting upon our experiences in the world.”

In the comments of a recent FaithGeeks video one viewer had some thoughts challenging the validity of faith in general. Here’s a short summary of some of his points.

  • Faith is belief without evidence, the denial of reality, the acceptance of assertions without evidence.
  • Reasonable faith is an oxymoron.
  • If it requires you to believe without evidence, then it’s faith. If you have evidence (as you claim), then it’s science or history.
  • Faith leads to very bad outcomes, actions which lead to suffering.

Here are some thoughts in response and about what faith is in general.

Faith is simply trust or confidence in something. In this regard, the chair analogy makes some sense, at least inasmuch as our faith is based on personal experience. The real leap comes over the gap between that which we can see and that which we cannot. We all have to answer questions of origins and destiny as well as meaning and morality.

  • Where did we come from?
  • Where will we end up?
  • What is the point of existence?
  • What is right and/or wrong and how can we be sure?

In order to answer such questions we examine worldviews like naturalism or Buddhism or the claims of Christ.

I base my faith on evidence which includes logical consistency of claims and arguments as well as historical evidence (testimonial included) and whatever science my meager brain can muster. It all has to cohere together and align with personal experience.

As for the claim that faith leads to bad outcomes, I have a few thoughts. First, faith also leads to good outcomes.* But if someone wants to condemn faith or religion for bad things certain adherents have done, I would argue that history is filled with plenty of murder and suffering at the hands of those who claim no faith (which is still a belief in naturalism). Also, anyone killing in the name of Christ is going against what he taught and isn’t a true reflection of what faith in him should look like.

If someone rejects a belief system (or even every organized belief system) it’s important to ask what that person is turning towards in place of whatever worldviews he denies. Do they have a philosophy that coherently answers those big four questions?

Unlike the theological dilemma of sitting in a chair, we don’t get final answers to the BIG questions until we die, but my belief in the invisible is based on what I can see and know now. Any other theories, teachings, or promises must align with verifiable reality and not be self-contradicting.

For me, the teachings of the Bible and Jesus provide intellectual and existential fulfillment.

What relationship do you see between faith and evidence?

*I’m working on a future post about many of these examples.

  • The Bible itself defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Elsewhere there is a verse (Romans?) which says that hope in something we’ve seen isn’t hope–it’s knowledge. Meaning my hope is in the invisible God who (I believe) created the universe. Based upon all the data available to us, the Christian explanation for the origin of life, the universe, and everything makes the most sense (to me). In Sherlockian terms, when we’ve eliminated the impossible, whatever remains–however improbable–must be the truth. Occam’s Razor is a great help here. I don’t have to keep multiplying hypotheses.

    Admittedly, this can get deep. But it doesn’t have to. Faith is neither blind, nor senseless. I find that folks usually have an ulterior motive for clinging to non-faith. Anyway…

    Great post, Clay!

    • Sounds like Hebrews 11:1 there, “the evidence of things not seen.” That’s right, just because our human sight is limited in some ways doesn’t mean that ultimate truth and answers aren’t out there.

  • On a recent Friday night, God told my friend, “Go to church on Sunday.” Very clearly, just like that. (She said, “Um…okay God.”) Saturday she had a melt-down due to overwork, no sleep and stress from starting a business; she was a complete wreck. Sunday she went to church, a rarity for her, and she passed 12 churches on the way to get to one where she had an acquaintance. Turns out the sermon spoke directly to the things she had been wrestling with on Saturday. To me, her acts of listening and doing what He asked is faith. And God knowing on Friday what she would need to hear on Sunday is evidence that her faith was warranted.

    You wrote about faith some time ago, which directly lead me to question the nature of my faith. Working through that with God has brought me to new and incredible places. I had faith, but I didn’t really act on it. I was too big picture. Acting on my faith – I can’t begin to explain the comfort and peace that has brought me. It’s really amazing.

    But it’s an on-going process. Just last night, I had a split-second thought come into my head, a moment of doubt. I know where that comes from, but it’s much more powerful than I’d like to acknowledge. At that moment, it was easy enough to say, “Yeah, but I really do believe.” Only that wasn’t truly enough – it’s just words and desire. I want it to be enough, but the doubt shakes my faith.

    And so I reminded myself of the evidence, so much evidence of God’s actions in my life, including that post about faith. Back to the beginning, I reminded myself of the times he has spoken to me and shown himself to me. Even as I did this, I asked Jesus to stand in front of me, to shield me from that jerk Satan. He’s done it before, and I had faith that He would again. And He did – giving evidence of himself once more.

    There was a time when I wouldn’t have done any of those things. I would probably have gone to bed with that doubt. But my faith is stronger now. The stronger my faith, the more I see the evidence of God’s hand in my life. Which feeds my faith – they continually build on one another.

    I do believe that eventually my faith will be so overwhelmingly large and strong that doubt won’t have a place to squeeze itself in. I can’t really explain how that will feel, but the closest I can come is that faith and evidence and belief will be so intertwined, so closely melded together that they will be one: simply truth.

    What’s hard about discussing faith to someone who doesn’t want to believe is that what’s evidence to me is to them coincidence or imagination, luck or fluke – there are any number of explanations that have nothing to do with God. I can’t make someone else believe what I do, believe in my evidence, but it is a part of what keeps my faith going.

    • Faith is a gift and is personal as you say. I think we’re gifted with more faith each time we stretch whatever current reserves we have just a little further. But doubt will never go away in this lifetime; it’s part of the package. But that’s okay too because when we face doubt it should lead us to seek proof, and if we are chasing truth we’ll never be let down.

  • oops, that’s long. I got carried away.

  • Most of us have never actually seen the risen Christ or had a Damascus Road experience. We have heard of those experiences passed down to us for two thousand years. We believe or not. We place our hope in something, whether it’s that or what science can prove to us or whatever. Whatever we can see, though, comes to an end and we have to make a decision on whether it ends there or we will hope or believe or have faith in something further. I believe in Christ because I think He invaded my life and has “proven” Himself to me.