What is Faith?

Here are two answers I’ve heard:

1. Faith is believing what you’ve been told, period. (“X says it. I believe it. That settles it.” For “X” you can substitute “the Bible,” “the Nicene Creed,” “the Pope,” “the Prophet in Salt Lake City,” “my minister,” “my parents,” etc. Think of the song, “I Believe,” from “The Book of Mormon”—yes, it’s a caricature.)

2. Faith is trusting what comes alive to you, in and through what you’ve been told. (Example: a friend of mine had what we could call a conversion experience when he heard a speaker say, “You are the beloved, loved by an uncontainable love beyond the love of family and friends.” That uncontainable love came alive to him in and through what he had been told. His whole life changed. He had been an atheist before this happened.)

What about this? “X says Y. Y comes alive to me. I trust Y. Now everything is unsettled.”

Notice—what comes alive to you is not some utterly distant being totally somewhere else, like a galaxy far, far away (or the planet Kolob), but right here with you in that moment, maybe more than right here, but still right here.

To put it another way, faith is discovering and rediscovering a relationship that never abandons you. The relationship is primary, belief a secondary reflection. Beliefs and doctrines are attempts to articulate that relationship, but they never fully succeed.

Does faith exclude doubt, as some argue, or does it require doubt, as others argue?

What if what you have faith in can’t be exactly described? (Examples: try describing “uncontainable love” exactly. Or—see below—how can anybody exactly describe the One-Who-Is?)

Here’s a famous passage about faith: “The word of the One-Who-Is [YHWH] came to Abram in a vision, saying, ‘Don’t fear, Abram. I am a shield to you …’ And [after arguing!] Abram was constantly, intimately and wholesomely involved with the-One-Who-Is.”—Genesis 15:1-6.

Comment: “Was constantly, intimately and wholesomely involved with” is a more apt rendition of the Hebrew he’emin, often translated for brevity’s sake as “believed.” The relationship is primary, belief a secondary reflection. On translating YHWH as “the One-Who-Is,” see Exodus 3:14-15. (Whenever you see “LORD” in all caps in an English translation, the Hebrew word is YHWH, which is never pronounced out loud.)

Recommended reading—a book by our faculty advisor, no less: Brent A. R. Hege, Faith, Doubt, and Reason (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2019).

… And if you’re really ambitious: Paul Tillich, Dynamics of Faith (New York: HarperCollins, 1957).