There’s a tendency to assume faith and facts are somehow opposites. That facts are based on proof and faith rejects such mundane realities. A quick google search turns up this definition: “strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.”
Based on spiritual apprehension? I’m not even sure what that means.
Proof is a loaded word, of course. It’s not a binary, all there or all not there. Maybe in a strictly mathematical sense, but very few of us live our lives in a strictly mathematical sense. We assess and predict, using our experiences and reason to gauge the world around us. When I come to a stoplight and the light is green, I keep going fast because I know the laws and I have experience in how these laws are followed. I don’t have proof everyone will follow the laws, but it’s a good bet. Though, not absolute.
We go by incomplete proof all the time, it’s how we make our way through life. In Hebrews we have this definition of faith: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”
There’s nothing about a lack of proof here, as if our confidence just erupts wholesale from our hearts.
Faith isn’t the absence of proof, not at all, that’s defining it in a way that doesn’t match either Biblical testimony or religious experience. People base their faith on something after all. Whether that proof is enough to convince everyone is a different matter, but that doesn’t negate the fact there’s a driving proof for a particular person to live in a particular way.
Faith isn’t believe in absence of facts or proof. Faith is a trajectory, an orientation in life based on a variety of proofs, towards a not-yet-experienced future. Understanding faith as a trajectory rather than a kind of wish is central to Scripture, where God, we say, works in a variety of ways and then expects the people to continue to believe that he will work in ways not yet seen.
Maybe this is why I wrestle with the idea of doubt. It’s become trendy to emphasize doubt, to celebrate doubt. But doubt isn’t really conducive with faith. But just writing that sounds so… religious and old-fashioned. But when I think of faith as trajectory, it’s an important statement to make. Because if I’m always doubting, I’m not moving forward towards the goal, I’m not pressing onward, stopping and pausing and checking the map every moment, getting sidetracked.
But, here’s the problem. People assume faith means absolute understanding or at least wholehearted confidence. It doesn’t mean that either. Faith may be the opposite of doubt but it welcomes questions and concerns. It invites query. We want to understand, even if we don’t. Doubt suggests there’s maybe no point to asking. Faith assumes there’s an answer ahead, even if we can’t know what it is or even if we’re asking the right questions.
That’s probably why I liked this quote from Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy:
“There is no power nor virtue in this travesty of faith, which makes it mean the taking of all things on trust, the folding of the hands and the bowing of the head, the spiritless submission to the lie that whatever is is right. Faith does not mean that we cease from asking questions; it means that we ask and keep on asking until the answer comes; that we seek and keep on seeking until the truth is found; that we knock and keep on knocking until the door is opened and we enter into the place of God’s truth.”
God calls us to this trajectory of faith, where we persevere in an uncertain and sometimes discouraging present based on what we know of God’s work in the past. We hold onto this work, in faith, because this is the only way to fullness. It’s a risk, to be sure. How do we truly know? We don’t. That’s the very challenge. What do we do with what we have experienced? What we’ve heard from others? What we’ve read in Scripture? Faith is build on such proofs and calls us into a trajectory where our lives reflect taking a risk on these truths.
It’s the uncertainty in the midst of conflicting possibilities where faith comes alive, grounded in proofs that we risk are true so that we can see the truth blossom in full in the future. It is being willing to move forward past the seemingly crushing denials because of the proofs that sustain our hopes in God’s future. Christ may die. But he does not stay dead. Christ may leave, but we are not left alone.