What’s Faith For?

In conversations with some close family and a close friend, I have heard mentioned the necessity and importance of faith in approaching god. When I have proposed that god is utterly absent from my experience, and then stated that it’s rather hard to base my life off of something or live in submission to someone for which there is not more than dubious evidence (in my experience and studies), they assert that faith is required. Why is it required? What makes god special in this instance that faith is required and not direct relationship?

When my car is broken, I don’t take it to someone who doesn’t for sure know how to work on cars, or has faith to fix it but no credentials; I take it to ASE certified mechanics. When I make a decision to attend a school, I consult counsel: career counselors, professors, friends, students. I do have inner monologue, but I attribute that to self-talk, not prayer/consultation with some entity who at best communicates to me through my own thoughts. Faith just seems an utterly weak position when there are more concrete options to consider. In every decision I come to, no, I do not make it with bird’s eye objectivity. But neither does the person who consults his or her god. They are just as embedded in their context as I am. I fail to understand how the element of faith adds to or diminishes vitality, wisdom, or direction in my life. Yes there are times where I make decisions without all the evidence at my disposal. Who doesn’t? I don’t call that faith. I call that life. We walk about in the dark, because that’s what life is. We don’t have all the information at hand. We don’t always make the best choices. We are human beings. If god spoke through much less convoluted means, I would grant faith more credence. However, as the word is presented to me, it is used as something differentiated from the faculties of reason and experience, a move I feel very uncomfortable with.

Here’s something of my experience with faith. There was a used van for sale. I asked the seller what was wrong with it besides the mileage. He said there was nothing wrong with the vehicle except its mileage. So I trusted him on that, not knowing the man, and foolishly, not taking it for a test drive. I trusted this man whom I did not know. What I got was a faulty electrical system, a right-at-the-end-of-its-life transmission, a near dead battery. That’s what I got for faith.

I’ve learned my lesson. A wiser person would have asked more questions than I did, ran it for a test drive, and taken it to a mechanic to check it out because we don’t take peoples’ word for things. We have to confirm things. We don’t accept colleges’ and universities’ claims to being reliable institutions; we run them through the gauntlet of accreditation. Continually. Where’s god’s accreditation process? Where’s his test drive? Why do people accept what the bible says with sometimes the level of trust that I had in the sleezy van salesman? Why does that seem to be the only area where we don’t bring our intellectual muscle to bear?

Another, more personal example. Growing up in a time and place where the distance between puberty and marriage continues to widen, I shared the experience of many Christian men in trying to maintain sexual purity in the modern age. The same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead was available to me to give life to my mortal body. In Christ’s absence, he left his Spirit to guide me into all truth and righteousness. So when there was temptation to look at pornography or do anything else, God would not let me be tempted beyond what I could bear. Sometimes I would/could resist. The temptation’d be there, but I’d be abstinent for months. Other times no. I guess I thought the power of god would show up more powerfully than it did, calming the raging sea of my hormones. I expected the grandeur of what is present in the biblical account. Where was this power? Was there more to this thing than words on a page?

I think the way in which the word “faith” is used today is far different than how it was used in the bible. Faith was used in places like Hebrews 11 as “trust” based on the past acts of god in history. The Israelites had their Exodus. The earliest Christians had Jesus’ direct life to appeal to. What happens, though, when I’m a Westerner, gentile, around 1900 years removed from the latest supposed revelation, and have no experience of this god whatsoever? Do I trust the murky historical and literary evidence at hand, ignoring or playing gymnastics with all the critical issues that exist? Do I downplay my own reason and experience in light of Christian tradition? I don’t see how that makes sense. I hold out hope for some reason, that if god exists, god will reveal something to me that would excite me to exhibit trust. Otherwise, the god of the bible is just another salesman with a used van, a degree mill with no accreditation.

Though some of my writing may come off as if I am static in my position or unwilling to change, it’s just a place I’m in at the moment. I desire fellowship and counsel in this lonely place. What has the God of the Bible done in your life that prompts you to trust him? What feeds your daily faith in him? If you have dealt with the critical difficulties surrounding using the Bible as a source of faith and theology, what are some ways you have done so? I’m at a place where I don’t trust Jesus, the Bible, or the God handed down. I’d like to, but I don’t. If you have help to offer, I’m all ears. Mind you, I will ask a lot of questions, but not because I’m combative. It’s just, after certain experiences, I can “never see with virgin eyes again” (Missy Higgins lyric; and, no, I’m not calling people who haven’t had my experiences “virgins”; never mind what I mean because now I don’t know what I mean lol).

7 thoughts on “What’s Faith For?”

  1. First, are you talking about your new minivan in this post, Monte? If so, I am so sorry. :/ That is shitty-shitty. 🙁 A similar thing happened to me when I was younger with the first car I purchased.

    Faith…I have a lot of things running through my head, but some of it you and I have talked about already, and some of it isn’t connected enough to come out in an intelligent form, yet. 😉

    This one thing, though. I just finished reading a book called ‘After Magic’ by Kester Brewin. On p. 81, he says something like (Travis Marler paraphrase), ‘in the toxic religious climate we live in, maybe the most godly thing that people of Christian faith can do is to live as if God did not exist.’ I’m not going to give away the rest of the book, or exactly what he is saying. Yep, I’m going to blatantly use intrigue like that. 😉 It’s a short book, like 90 pages long, and I have it if you want to read it…you actually only need to read like 30-40 pages to get what he is saying, even though there is good stuff scattered throughout.

    1. Hey Travis! No, this is the van debacle Sarah and I had last summer. Guh. The “After Magic” book DOES sound intriguing now that you’re holding out on me 😛 I look forward to looking at it.

  2. “Never tempted beyond what we can bear”: I struggle to think of a scripture passage which is more misused. I always heard it invoked as if each struggle and trial was God-designed to test people to their limits. If this were the case, then why would people sin? When people sin, they were clearly tempted beyond what they could bear. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have failed. If one takes the text as truth, I suppose it could be understood as a passage supporting free will but how it is commonly used seems like complete nonsense to me. With that out of the way let me get to the more important issue.

    Quite simply, I don’t know what faith is. Not like: I can’t seem to find it in myself or I have lost it in my spiritual journey or any other such personal anecdote. I genuinely don’t have no idea what people are referencing when they use the word ‘faith’. For most people, they seem to mean belief. But how does one believe something of which they are not convinced? ‘Oh just believe’ was the answer I received. I tried this for awhile, thinking it was faith. It wasn’t; it was lying to myself. The insistence on beliefs being a decision that one chooses is one of my primary critiques of contemporary American Christianity (maybe just evangelicalism?) and popular Western thought more generally. Further, I have the suspicion that faith and belief are understood by those of us in the post-enlightenment world radically different than those before. If I can barely understand what the people around me mean when they say ‘faith’, how in the world can I understand what Paul the Apostle meant when he used it? The easy and constant conflation of belief and faith, fact and truth in both myself and most of those around me make it tempting to jettison the whole bunch. But I probably won’t. I guess that is a temptation I can bear.

    Faith, hope, and love are often talked about in Christianity. As faith has become increasingly bewildering to me, hope supplanted it as my primary description of my own religious experience. Travis and I have talked about this several times so perhaps there will be a growing shift in that direction. Travis probably has more interesting things to say on that than me.

    1. About time you commented man. I was beginning to think you didn’t like me :). Yah, even though I was stabbing at what “faith” might mean to others, I, too, have trouble knowing what others are talking about, or even what I’m talking about. Do you think it might be easier to understand what Paul, Jesus, and company are talking about when they mention faith because they give context to its meaning? Or are there simply too many critical problems in the way to arrive at their understanding, too?

      1. Hey guys 🙂

        Don mentioned a verse that is misused…and it sounds like he is saying that it is not understood, either (by him, or anyone who uses it in the typical way). I wanted to add another faith verse that always flummoxed me. It’s the one in Hebrews: ‘Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.’ This one also gets tossed around around a lot by ministers in the tradition we grew up in, to the response of nodding heads out in the congregation…but I doubt that most of the nodding heads ever really thought about what it might mean. That verse always left me scratching my head about it. 🙂 It’s like code-talk. 😉 It reminds me of the scene from ‘UHF’ where Wierd Al (in a homage to Close Encounters of the Third Kind) builds a tower of mashed potatos, stares at it intently, and deadpans, ‘This means something. This is important.’ Hehe 🙂

        Okay, so, I’m going to toss out a Reader-response interpretation of that Hebrews verse that irresponsibly reads across other parts of the New Testament with little regard to historical context, literary context, grammar and language awareness, etc. I’m going to call it my Experiential-Creative License interpretive method. 😉 Here goes.

        Faith is a substance. A thing. Something that exists in this world, our world, our reality, our real world. It is something we can observe. Apparently, it is something that people can point at and say, ‘Aha, there’s evidence we can see for something else that we can’t see.’ And what faith is evidence of–or is the real world substance of–are things hoped for…things hoped for that don’t necessarily exist in our real world. Hopefully, the ‘things hoped for’ by people are things like:

        -life, rather than death (except in our video games 😉
        -the end of abuses
        -no one starving, or dehydrating to death
        -the end of oppression in its multitude of forms
        -an existence in which people are not cursed

        Now I’m going to jump to Jesus. He talks about someone giving a cup of water to a little one, and how there is no way that person will miss out on a reward. He utters some beautiful bullshit about the crippled, the peasants, the oppressed actually *being* the light of the world. He talks about a person cursed because of different religious beliefs who is more godly than a Jewish priest because he helps a Jew when the priest did not. He talks about things that we do that bring into existence those ‘things hoped for’ and ‘unseen’ that don’t necessarily exist in our reality, or aren’t often seen.

        If we unite the Hebrews verse with Jesus, it looks like faith are the things we do (giving water, taking care of an enemy) and say (calling a bunch of misfits the light of the world) that cause the things we hope for, yearn for, to become a reality in our world. Faith becomes more a way of living through deed and speech than a set of beliefs, or the act of believing. And that’s the end of my interpretation. 🙂

        I’m like Don, I much prefer the word ‘hope’ to ‘faith’. At least in our context, I feel like hope–which allows things to be broken and put back together–is a much more fragile or delicate word than faith, with it’s connotations of certainty.

        1. I like where you’re going with faith, Travis. It’s the work that makes the endgame come together. Hope has always been a confusing one for me, besides the other floppy words faith and love. Hope…I hope it doesn’t rain when I want to have my BBQ today. I hope my guy wins tonight. I guess I’ve always associated it with wish, which may or may not happen. You seem to associate it more with goals that are actively worked toward, which I do like better. It gives us more freedom and power when used with the Experiential-Creative License interpretive method 🙂

          1. Huh, never thought about breaking down different understandings of ‘hope’ like that. That was good. 🙂

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