Processing Jesus Pt II: Faith
There is no one way to define ‘faith’. The idea of ‘faith’ varies a lot depending on where and when you are using it. Faith is sometimes used more like hope, for example: belief in a good future for yourself and others. Sometimes faith means religion: the Christian Faith, the Bahai Faith, the Great Faith Traditions. St. Paul, especially important after Martin Luther, talks about Justification by Faith.
But how I want to use ‘faith’ is all and none of these things.
This is part II of a three-part series. Part I: Belief, is here.
Once again, these thoughts come mostly from the opening chapters of James W. Fowler’s Stages of Faith. In it, he claims that faith is a universal thing: he describes faith as a person’s way of seeing the world. The way that everything fits together, the set on the stage which gives the action of a play context and meaning. Even a person who doesn’t think about their faith, question it or talk about it has a faith.
That’s pretty much how I think of faith now. Faith consists of the way we see everything.
I once heard from a friend who was studying psychology an interesting comment on optimism and pessimism. He said: an optimist sees problems as circumstantial, while a pessimist sees problems as pervasive. That means, for pessimists, problems always happen and they specifically happen to “me”. But for optimists, problems are caused by circumstances and are not personal. To me, optimism and pessimism are different kinds of faith: faith in whether life itself is good or bad. You don’t need to know you are an optimist or a pessimist to be one. You don’t need to know you have a faith to have one.
The pessimist might be an atheist, but it doesn’t mean that they don’t have an idea of God. They might not believe that the force giving them problems is conscious; but they do believe that life is giving them problems specifically. In my view, that person believes in a malicious God, a bad God.
Despite making claims to believe an all-loving, all-powerful God, a Christian can still be a pessimist. I would say that a Christian who believes that “life” is against them has contradictions in their faith. I’m not saying that they are not a Christian; I am saying their worldview contradicts itself.
In this way, I think many people believe in God by many names, including atheists. And I think that many people’s views of God are probably contradictory, including my own, in ways that we don’t realise.
Justification by Faith
St. Paul’s faith, as in Justification by Faith, is something else. I think the faith he wrote about means taking on the right worldview.
Justification is not salvation. The Bible makes it quite clear that we are judged according to what we do on Earth, and that doing good matters. (II Cor 5:10) What Jesus does, then, is not save us, but bring us into a right relationship with God. I think this means he helps us to see reality more clearly, or more rightly.
Faith in Jesus is faith in yourself; the death of the old self, new life, the discovery of God-in-You. The forces of life are then not against you, but for you. (Romans 8:31) But this isn’t automatic (as I have said before): you first receive love and grace from God, undeservingly – but you have to respond by loving the people around you and the world you live in. That requires you to build a new worldview and change how you live. This is discipleship – it is living the contents of Jesus’ teachings. It is by following, then, that you are saved. It is by faith that you can follow.
For we live by faith, not by sight. – II Corintians, 5:7
I think accepting Christ is the beginning of a long journey, the beginning of being a Christian. To live by faith and not by sight, I think, means learning to trust in yourself as a person, as one who embodies a bit of God. ‘Sight’ is us reflecting too much on ourselves; faith is trusting in a worldview we construct by striving to be righteous. It means learning not to hate life, but to use it for something greater than your own self-interest.
What does faith mean to you? And what do you believe in?