A friend of mine was recently pressing me for a clear account of faith. Here is the gist of what I said, and a bit more. Tell me if you think I’m on the right track!
Faith is hope that you invest in. Faith is hope that you act on, hopefully: it is hope, plus action in hope. It is like trust, but you have to be careful using the word “trust” with faith, because sometimes “trust” suggests having no doubt. Faith doesn’t mean having no doubt! If you have no doubt, that would be knowledge, which is compatible with faith, but a different thing. Rather, faith is acting on hope, rather than doubt. For example, if my car breaks down in the desert, and a stranger offers me a ride, I don’t know for sure if the person will do what she said. But if I say, “Thank you!” and get in the car, I am exercising hope and a kind of trust. I am trusting this person to take me somewhere safe, where I can get more help (call a tow truck, etc.). I am trusting the stranger. If I have pepper spray in my pocket and have some doubts, I might even keep a hand on it, just in case, but by getting in the car, I am acting in hope and trust. I am putting faith in this driver. See, “putting” faith is like investing–faith is active hope, hope that you act on, so that the good thing you hope for can be fulfilled.
So, to have faith in God, you don’t even have to know that God exists. You only have to hope, and then act in such a way that if God does exist, you can develop the kind of relationship you would hope to have with him. There are times when faith is not the right choice, for example, with certain types of salesmen. There can be reasons for, or against, exercising faith. If a person has proved unreliable in the past, that can be a reason to make doubt active, rather than hope, in the future, with this person. There are a lot of things I don’t know about God. I expect to be quite surprised when I actually walk through the pearly gates, or whatever kind of gates God has put up in his heavenly kingdom. I only have a rather sketchy idea of what his plans for me and the rest of humanity will look like. The images in the scriptures, as often as not, are symbols and metaphors–often explicitly so ( . . . as the glory of the sun . . .). Or they refer to concepts I know I don’t have a detailed grasp of.
Faith in God is tricky because he has told us pretty clearly that many of the things we might hope he would do for us are not really what is best for us. Only when we come to see things from his perspective will be reliably know what we should be asking for. Having our expectations exploded, then, is to be expected when we put our trust in God. That is part of the point, though: we need, and hope, to be made into new creatures. God is like a refiner’s fire, and he will sift us as wheat! Faith in God, then, is not entirely or always peaceful. We are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, says Paul (Philippians 2:12) But we hope and trust that we will come through the ordeal as gold–even if we went in as iron, or clay, or straw–if we let the process of transformation begin and continue in us now.