Faith: What is it and how does it relate to my spiritual journey?

I have recently joined an interfaith blogging network and the topic we’ll be dialoging on this month is, “What is your view regarding the meaning and the role of faith? What importance does it play in your community and in your daily life?”

The problem with conversing about “faith” is that the word is interpreted differently by different communities. Some would define “faith” in opposition to “reason” such that a phrase like “reasonable faith” would strike them as oxymoronic. “Faith”, they would say, is “blind” by definition. Obviously I have issues with that. Others might associate “faith” with verbal affirmation of particular doctrinal positions, such that a “What is your faith?” question would be interpreted as a query into your religious or denominational affiliation. Hmmm.

For me, it is different. I interpret the word faith very much in terms of trust. Having faith in God is about trusting in God. It goes far beyond mere acknowledgement of God’s existence, and in this respect I am reminded of the scriptural passage that wryly jokes, “You believe in God? Good for you, even the Devil does that!” or words to that effect. Mere belief in God has no virtue. Affirmation without action has no virtue. Your true faith is revealed in your actions.

Following this I would affirm that even atheists have faith or a sort. Everyone trusts in something or someone.

So, how does such faith relate to my spiritual journey – well, I consider faith to be one of the sharpest measures of spiritual growth, along with hope and love. Observing how you are growing (or not!) in faith, hope and love is an essential reality check for both Christian communities and Christian disciples. If your communities are growing and numbers but not in faith, what does that say about your practice? If you are reaching profound states of meditation but not growing in your trust or trustworthiness, what does that say about your practice?

Given the attention given to the Gnostic Gospels these days, what, with The Da Vinci Code and all, I think it is also worth saying a few brief things about the relationship between pistis (faith) and gnosis (knowledge). One of the distinguishing features of the New Testament scriptures is the primacy they give to faith over knowledge and wisdom in comparison to the Gnostic scriptures. Why is that? Well if you look to Proverbs, which forms a core element of the Old Testament wisdom tradition, you will find a repeated refrain that “fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom”. Now this is difficult to understand but what it basically means is that wisdom begins with trusting God to be God and holding him in appropriate reverence and awe. Ultimately it’s about faith – about who and what you have faith in – God or something other. Though the semantics may differ, the New Testament scriptures universally affirm the centrality of faith, hope and love to the Christian way and that true wisdom is found in the foolishness of the cross.

I have been writing from an eclectic Christian perspective. If you would like to read the comments of others in the interfaith network see below. Jon from Jesus Followers Journal will be writing from a Protestant Christian perspective, Sojourner from A Pagan Sojourn will be writing from a Pagan / Unitarian Universalist perspective, Jeff from Druid Journal will be writing from a Druidic perspective, and Mike from Unknowing Mind will be writing from a Mahayana Buddhist perspective.

One thought on “Faith: What is it and how does it relate to my spiritual journey?

  1. Very nice post on faith, Matt. Both you and Jon emphasized the scriptural dictum that true faith is revealed in your actions. While my view of faith differs a bit from your’s and Jon’s, I couldn’t agree more that faith without works is dead. I touched on this in more detail in my comment to Jon’s post.
    You wrote that “Faith is one of the sharpest measures of spiritual growth, along with hope and love.” I agree, to a point. As we live our lives and accumulate greater experiential evidence for our beliefs, our faith should grow, as you said. Hence, as you stated, it’s a great reality check for our practice. However, as Jeff wrote in his essay, “There can be no faith without the possibility of doubt.” In Buddhism, our practice ultimately carries us to what Jon called, “Certainty beyond probability.” Our wisdom is ultimately a knowing that transcends faith. Thus, in the way I view faith, it is a wonderful reality check upon our practice that we will eventually outgrow once we reach the point of true knowing, perfect wisdom. Perhaps this is only a semantical difference, though. Maybe you are simply defining faith in an extended fashion such that it encompasses a degree of certainty that I feel requires another word (I used “knowing” above).
    I think it’s also important to note that spiritual growth is rarely linear. You wrote, ”If you are reaching profound states of meditation but not growing in your trust or trustworthiness, what does that say about your practice?” Even after we have achieved a strong level of wisdom, love, and compassion through regular practice, we will still have days that feel like a regression. But you’re right, if we could plot a “trend line” that measures our trustworthiness and other spiritual traits, if it is not slanting upward, perhaps we should reevaluate our commitment to our practice.

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