March 28, 2023

A Recipe for Faith

Faith is hard. In class many of my theology classes, I define faith simply as “trust.” The reason I do this is to keep the concept simplified so that it can be built on from there with many other concepts. But there’s a more biblical definition that is not only more robust, but potentially more helpful: “The assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:11). This is, in a way, a more difficult definition to process, but maybe more helpful in the long run for those of us to whom faith does not come easy.

I, like most people, can be a bit of a hypocrite on occasion; it’s human nature. I can stand in front of classes, church groups, even an auditorium full of people and talk about faith and define it as trust, as though it were all that easy. Alright, I don’t really ever try to make it sound easy because, if I’m being honest (and I always am, to a fault), it’s never easy for me. Nonetheless, while all that works fine and good for theology, it doesn’t really help anyone on the ground level, practically speaking, where people actually need it.

Lots of trust, some imagination, a splash of stubbornness, and a pinch of delusion.

This longer definition actually has some meat on it, something to chew on and relate to, maybe even something operative. So, let’s take that biblical definition and go from there. I have a recipe for faith (at least my current progress, which likely will change over time). It’s a simple, yet often difficult mixture of lots of trust, some imagination, a healthy splash of stubbornness, and a little pinch of delusion. “The assurance of things hoped for,” to me, means that we need trust to be assured that anything will ever happen, and the imagination to visualize or understand what it is that we hope for. “The conviction of things not seen” means that we have to be a little... no, a lot stubborn to have that kind of conviction and slightly deluded to be stubborn about something we can see, touch, measure, or prove in any conventional way.

I struggle with faith because of my secular upbringing and my natural way of thinking, both of which I am mostly thankful for in many ways. But they do cause their share of psychological challenges. After all, everything has a drawback. I have trust issues because of many life experiences with people who have let me down and betrayed me (as many of us have). I have a great imagination, which I owe more to my artistic side than to any great cultivation of virtue. Sure, I am stubborn, but that often works against my efforts for faith in favor of tangible things. Finally and most troublingly, I’m a realist by nature, so self-delusion doesn’t come easy for me – if I can’t see or measure it in some way, my natural reflex and inclination is to be skeptical.

Flaws aren’t barriers to faith, they’re just more like speed bumps.

But these flaws and tendencies aren’t barriers to faith, they’re just more like speed bumps. These are things that I have to work against, not terribly dissimilar to how some of us have to watch what we eat because of slow metabolism or some should refrain from certain substances or behaviors if they have addictive personalities or genetic predisposition to addictions. It helps to know that we all do little acts of faith all the time, but don’t realize it. This makes the whole faith thing a good deal more relatable.

We get an education because we have faith it will help us get better jobs or careers. But we never actually know that it’ll help, or that we’ll even make enough money to pay off the crushing debt of student loans. We go on vacations because we have faith that if we pick the right destination at the right time with the right people, then we’ll have a good time. But we never actually know for sure we’ll enjoy it. All kinds of things can and do go wrong – people get sick, travel plans are delayed, and the weather just does whatever the hell it wants to.

Faith is not always rewarded, but it is still worth the trouble.

Faith is not always rewarded in our lives, but it is still worth the trouble. Faith is never certain, but it is nonetheless what drives us at our core every day to accomplish all the great triumphs of humanity as well as our individual triumphs in our little daily lives. I once heard someone say that faith is the opposite of fear. While I don’t know if I completely agree with that, it is an interesting way to look at our mental states in terms of faith. We fall into fear so easily, yet have to work (or even fight) to climb into faith. The Buddha said that suffering is inherent to life and it couldn’t be truer. But, like the lotus flower, we are tasked by virtue of our very existence to grow above the slime and filth of the swamp that is the world so that we can open up and flower into our true potential.

I don’t have much more advice at the moment, unfortunately. Perhaps I’ll have more as I get older and wiser. But, for now, I’ll leave you with this notion, again from the Bible, albeit somewhat cryptic (as the Bible often is): “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is” (Romans 12:2).