Your Best Life Now

Your Best Life Now

What Is Faith?…

posted by smcswain

I’m looking out the window on a flight from Louisville to Atlanta where I’m helping a congregation redefine its understanding of mission and then recast a vision for their future.

I’ve been reflecting on the meaning of faith. What is faith?

What I realize today is that, more than at any other time, the confusion between faith and beliefs is widespread and perhaps is even pandemic. I understand the confusion well for I, too, have lived much of my life confused about the two.

So, again, what is faith? Here are the things to remember:

First, there is a difference between “beliefs” and “faith.” Many people mistakenly think their “beliefs” – that is, the things they say about the spiritual experience they’ve had is what constitutes faith. Well — and this may be the source of confusion — your beliefs do express your faith…your experience…but your faith is infinitely more than your beliefs.

Beliefs, no matter how carefully crafted and no matter how “orthodox” they might be, could never capture the essence of either the person of God or our experience of God.  As a consequence, the danger is that the things we say about God will become, as they often do, more important than the experience toward which they point.  As a spiritual teacher once reminded us, “The finger that points to the moon is not the moon.” In this regard, beliefs, instead of the faith experience toward which they point, can become the finger that points toward the moon.

Second, you cling to beliefs but you live by faith.  Here, too, there is a huge difference. Whenever people confuse beliefs for faith, they tenaciously, even argumentatively, cling to those beliefs and they do so precisely because they seek to feel spiritually secure.

It seldom works, however.

Why? Because faith, unlike your beliefs, cannot be gathered up and held in one’s hand, anymore than you can hold water in your hands.

Third, faith is best understood as the capacity to let go of certainty and to live at peace in the midst of uncertainty. Faith is the willingness…yes, even the risky business of letting go of one’s natural inclination to cling to a belief; a doctrine; a concept or idea; or even a belief system.

So, how do you know when you’re attached to a belief masquerading as faith?

What does it feel like inside you when your belief(s) is questioned? Do you feel threatened? Under attack? Do you feel the need to defend the belief? If so, there is a strong likelihood you are confusing faith for a belief. Otherwise, why would you feel this way?

Of faith, the writer of Hebrews says, “Now, faith means being certain of things we cannot see…” (Hebrews 11:1f, Phillips trans.). In other words, even your collection of beliefs, are things you can see. They are words on a page. But, essentially, little more. They may have great meaning to you…to your faith tradition…and even the weight of your faith tradition’s religious history. But still just words. You do not live by words. Instead, you live, when you live by faith, by an unseen capacity within you so utterly amazing, so completely Divine, that even cleverly crafted words could never capture the Mystery inherent in your believing.

And yet, the danger inherent in all religions, Christianity notwithstanding, is that our beliefs about God will become more important, institutionalized, even unquestionable, that whenever someone comes along and questions those beliefs, you feel attacked and so are compelled to respond accordingly.

So, you want to live by faith?

Perhaps this illustration will help?

On my flight this morning from Louisville to Atlanta, I was watching the sunrise through the airplane window. Across the horizon were rolling hills, as it were, of cascading clouds, white like mounds of freshly fallen snow.

I said to myself, “We’ll be arriving soon in Atlanta.”

But then, I thought, “But how do I know we will? I mean, for certain, that is?”

In truth, I did not know. And yet, I knew we would, too.

This is faith at work. We know what really cannot be known with certainty. And, so, we live in peace…in trust…in confidence.

I am often asked, for example, “But how do you know there is a God?”

And, my answer is: “I do not. And, yet, I do, too.”

“That’s contradictory,” you say. Admittedly, for those who need more, it is a problem.

For me, and I suspect for you – otherwise, why would you be reading this – except, of course, to find something with which to disagree.  I know, and you likely know, too, what really cannot be known. I see, and you see, what really cannot be seen. I feel, and you likely feel, what cannot be empirically proven only subjectively enjoyed.

Faith is…

…Knowing what cannot be known…

…Faith is releasing the control of your life and destiny…

…Faith is laughter in the face of paradox and contradiction..the big bellied Buddha-kind of laughter.

…Faith is trust in the presence of uncertainty…

…Faith is peace in the midst of chaos and misunderstanding…

…Faith is life lived with beliefs but beyond those beliefs, too…

Faith is…

God in you believing in Herself.

When you live from this place of knowing, you, my friend, are living…


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