The Essence of Faith

It’s a paradox, this word “faith.” The dictionary attempts to define it. We humans use it glibly to refer to the trust we have in others, but in reality it is a word too complex to define by and with mere words. I think it is defined by action. In reality, it is a journey. It is not always a journey along sunbathed valleys, but often an arduous climb along narrow, rocky paths.

It’s a journey that involves experience. It engages the heart and mind, because, after all, as humans, we were created with an innate ability to wrestle with great thoughts and to work through them in a way the rest of creation cannot. In spite of this, for centuries, man has attempted to separate the heart and the mind and create a dichotomy where there should be a wholeness. In fact, I believe that if faith is a journey, then the demarkation point is reason, which, while always a part of the journey of faith, may lose its initial place of prominence, but is never truly left behind. I realize this smacks modern day views of faith that our culture has accepted in the face. And I am fine with that.

Years ago, the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, struggled with the idea of faith. Considered by some to be the first existential philosopher, Kierkegaard wrestled with the idea of faith and the role of the church in society. An outspoken critic of an official relationship between church and state (as am I), Kierkegaard struggled to unify faith and reason. While it may be too broad a brush stroke in some ways, Francis Schaeffer correctly identified the weakness of Kierkegaard’s solution. It was to create a split between faith (a mindless leap into the unknown) and reason (the rational, every day). Instead of a complete whole, man began to splinter into two separate parts. There was the part that went to church on Sunday, but left that part of himself as soon as the service was over to go back to “reality.” The church and religion were divorced from the rational world, an idea reinforced by Darwinian thought that followed closely behind Kierkegaard. And it wasn’t just Kierkegaard. There were Voltaire and Rousseau and a host of others.

Contrary to Kierkegaard, I would argue that faith is not a leap at all, or at least in the way that he intended. It is a rationale process that leads us to God. Faint vestiges of this are found in Plato’s Phaedo, where Socrates says,

“I assume the existence of a Beautiful, itself by itself, of a Good and a Great and all the rest.”

What is Socrates arguing? With a simple glance around himself at the vestiges of creation, he reckons on something greater that he cannot see. He could not see the Final Form, just the fingerprints of it. He still believed in it, though. Why? Because he was thinking completeness, reasoning that within himself there was a connection between the physical and the metaphysical and by using his mind, he could bridge the gap between. Which is why he finishes the above quote with, “If you grant me these and agree that they exist, I hope to show you the cause as a result, and to find the soul to be immortal.”

This belief in the goodness (the Good and the Great) of the final form finds itself in the Gospel of Mark. Twice Mark relates of Christ healing people. The first is found in Mark 5:25-34. There Christ heals a woman of a lifelong illness. The imagery of the passage is wonderful. In the midst of a pressing crowd, the woman makes a conscious decision, “If only I may touch his garments, I will be made well.” She then reaches out and touches Christ and is healed. Two very physical, human, rational actions. She had seen Christ heal others-why not her?

The other is Bartimaus, the blind man. While he could not see Christ, he knew He was passing by. “Son of David, have mercy on me!” The crowd tries to silence him. He cries out again and again. Christ turns and heals him-“Your faith has made you well.” A conscious decision to believe based on a pattern of events.

It is this conscious observation of the world that lead Aquinas to write, “It is therefore evident that the natural law is nothing else than the rational creature’s participation of the eternal law.” In essence, Aquinas is saying, “Laws are based on reason and the giver of these laws is a reasonable Being.”

In fact he does say just that: “All law proceeds from the reason and will of the lawgiver. The divine and natural laws from the reasonable will of God, the human law from the will of man regulated by reason.” Odd how we never hear this in our society anymore, that there is a God and that He is reasonable.

Which brings me back to Kierkegaard and his leap of faith. If our journey of faith begins with the reasoning mind and observing the world around us and assuming the existence of a Beautiful, of a Good and Great, I submit that there is a time when we come to a final door in the journey and unlike the others that are merely mile markers of life, this one is not like the others. It reveals something bigger than ourselves, broader than we can imagine. Infinite.

In Augustine’s Confessions he says to God: “You comfort us by saying, ‘Run for I shall hold you up. I shall lead you and carry you to the end.”

Can we not then with confidence take a reasonable leap of faith? Reason and the mind are both components of faith. They are there along the way as tokens of proof, leading the inquiring mind (and soul) closer and closer. At the end, it is a decision of the mind that leads us to trust, with confidence and belief in what we cannot yet see, putting our faith in “the essence of things hoped for, the evidence of things not yet seen.”

We have seen the fingerprints, the evidence of Perfection. This fact was driven home recently by theoretical physicist Michio Kaku.

“To me it is clear that we exist in a plan which is governed by rules that were created, shaped by a universal intelligence and not by chance.”

























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Drew Ryun

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