What does it mean to have faith?

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Believing in a set of ideas about God is quite different from putting our confidence in a vital relationship with the God who saves.

When we put our faith in other people, it means we trust them to do as they say and to follow through on their promises. It doesn't mean we believe that they exist. Yet this minimalist definition of faith seems to be what's most often applied in the realm of religion. Faith in God, in this sorry little sense, merely implies giving intellectual assent to an eternal Being out there somewhere. Faith can further imply our adherence to a certain list of beliefs taught by a group that purports to represent God: church, synagogue, mosque, or meeting hall. 

Believing in a set of ideas about God is quite different from putting our confidence in a vital relationship with the God who saves: the God who rescues us, personally, and whose promises are true. Settling for the former notion is probably the most short-changing proposition we can make in our spiritual lives. Contrast that with what happens if we extend the same faith to God we offer to people. As Jesuit theologian Michael Cook describes it, we only surrender our trust to those with whom we have a shared history that recommends such confidence. Committing our faith to another person is a "self-transcending" hour that involves risk. We become vulnerable to betrayal, deceit, or disappointment. Who would take such a risk unless the one to whom we give our faith has proven credible and worthy of it?

This is precisely the kind of faith Abraham surrenders to the God who invites him to leave home and extended family, and to embark on a future that's unseen and unknown. God promises land and descendants. If Abraham hadn't believed God was good for it, he would never have left his father's tents.

What reason might you and I have to commit our destinies to God? The Bible reveals a shared history between God and humanity in which people are frequently deceitful and disappointing. Yet God is steadfast. We can also meditate on creation itself, in which God's commitment to life, beauty, and prosperity are clearly seen. Ultimately, it's only in taking the plunge into trusting God, and accepting the invitation to journey with God as Abraham did, that we learn for ourselves that God's promises are true. As Karl Rahner says, we can settle for the mind grasping divine mysteries. Or we can permit ourselves to be grasped.

Scripture:  Genesis 12:1-7; Matthew 17:14-20; Luke 11:9-13; Romans 4:1-3, 13-25; 5:1-5; 10:4-10; 1 Corinthians 13:12-13; 2 Corinthians 5:7; James 2:14-18; 1 John 1:1-4

Books: Christology as Narrative Quest, by Michael L. Cook, S.J. (Liturgical Press, 1997)

Why Stay Catholic? Unexpected Answers to a Life-Changing Question, by Michael Leach (Loyola Press, 2011)

Reprinted with permission from PrepareTheWord.com. ©TrueQuest Communications.

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