Faith. The word alone carries so much baggage. Those who identify as religious (at least, westerners) tend to wear it as a badge of honor. Those that do not, often deem it an object worthy of derision. But what exactly is faith?
The very first thing most people think of when they think of the word ‘faith’ is a trust in something that cannot be proven. This is actually the most common reason that those who disparage faith do so. Quite frankly, if this were what faith actually was, I would probably be among their number. The next thing is almost always a conceptual belief in the unseen. For Christians, we believe that Jesus Christ lives even though we can’t see Him, so we say we have faith. We believe that we will go to heaven when we die even though we have no experience with it, so we say we have faith. Most of the time this becomes the accepted definition of faith.
It is at this point that I have to disagree. What such an attitude is called is quite simply belief. We believe many things. We believe that the sun will come up tomorrow. We believe that preparation for emergencies is a good thing. We believe that fiscal responsibility is something to be valued. I can list all kinds of concepts in all arenas of life that we conceptually believe. Many even have evidence that would push that belief into the realm of actual knowledge. The real question is, so what?
Farmers believe that in order to harvest crops and sell them to earn a living, fields must first be furrowed and planted, then cared for with water and sunlight (and often pesticides or some other deterrent), then patiently waited for until it is time to actually do the harvesting. At that time, there has to be a market for the crop, which requires making connections, and some business acumen. What would happen, however, if the farmer believed/knew all of this (either from direct experience or from the experiences of those he knew personally) and then expected that without planting, watering, waiting, and all the other activity, that the harvest would just happen and his bank account would increase on it’s own? Would it?
This, to me highlights the difference between belief/knowledge and true faith. Faith is action on belief/knowledge. We can certainly speak of faith in a religious context, but the concept applies much more broadly than that. Faith is experiential. It is about evidence based on action. In the Book of Mormon, Alma teaches a great sermon on faith (Alma 32:27) in which he asks us to experiment with truth:
“But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.” (emphasis added)
The Buddha put it another way in the Kalama Sutta:
“It is proper for you, Kalamas, to doubt, to be uncertain; uncertainty has arisen in you about what is doubtful. Come, Kalamas. Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another’s seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, ‘The monk is our teacher.’ Kalamas, when you yourselves know: ‘These things are bad; these things are blamable; these things are censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill,’ abandon them.
Come, Kalamas. Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another’s seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, ‘The monk is our teacher.’ Kalamas, when you yourselves know: ‘These things are good; these things are not blamable; these things are praised by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness,’ enter on and abide in them.” (emphasis added)
In both of these sources, faith is the action that allows us to turn our belief into knowledge. In like manner, we are often asked to do things or told that things are true by therapists, by doctors, by ecclesiastical leaders, even by lowly Life Coaches. These things we should not simply accept as a belief. It is imperative that we develop faith in these principles. We must act, we must try them and see what kind of results that they produce. Then we can look back and say that something is or is not a principle that we should be making a habit in our lives. This knowing for ourselves is a powerful principle. It means that we do not have to rely on external sources for our knowledge. We can experiment and find out for ourselves. That is what makes faith powerful.
– Josh Walles
The Mindful Life Coach