I once had a conversation with an Atheist who said, “I don’t understand the idea of faith. It just doesn’t make sense to me”. It was one of her main objections against Christianity, and religion in general. Reflecting back to that conversation, I can see why this person had this objection.
The objection stemmed from a misunderstanding of the nature of “faith” in Christianity.
The potential confusion can be seen through a quick online search of the definition of “faith”. Here are some possible definitions.
1. allegiance to duty or a person : loyalty b (1) : fidelity to one’s promises (2) : sincerity of intentions
2. belief and trust in and loyalty to God
3. firm belief in something for which there is no proof
4. something that is believed especially with strong conviction; especially : a system of religious beliefs
The differences between some of these definitions are quite large. For example, the first definition simply involves a trust in some sort of object, while the third definition involves a belief despite a lack of proof.
When the Atheist I mentioned above was talking about faith, she was very likely thinking of definition #3. To her, all people who have “faith” in a religion believe that particular religion is true, even though there is little or no evidence to prove their belief is true.
If this definition of faith is the correct definition for all religions, it does not make sense to me either. If there is one religious or atheistic view that is true, I want to follow that view. If I hold a view that has little or no evidence confirming it, how can I determine that I am following the correct view? With this definition, it seems that “faith” is preventing me from seeking truth in any reasonable way.
However, I argue that the definition of faith in the context of Christianity is much more like definition #1 – allegiance to, or trust in, an object. And this trust is not based on little or no evidence. The trust in the object is based on what you know about that object.
The object of faith in Christianity, Jesus Christ, indicated this definition of faith through his teaching and actions as described in the Bible. For example, in the book of Luke, Jesus told a crowd that he has “not found such great faith even in Israel” when a Centurion heard about the miracles that Jesus had performed, and trusted Jesus to heal his servant (Luke 7:1-10). Like the Centurion, the followers of Christianity “have faith in”, or trust in, Jesus Christ.
However, “trusting in something” does not mean much on its own. There needs to be something you are trusting the object for, such as a particular action that object will provide. For example, you trust that a chair will hold you up when you sit on it.
You can also trust an object for an action that it has provided. For example, you trust your friend by trusting that when he said, “the chair didn’t break when I sat on it,” he told the truth.
Or you could trust in an object for a trait that the object is — you could trust that the chair is sturdy.
Christians trust that Jesus will provide people who choose to follow him the ability to know God in a personal way, has provided a payment for the consequeces of sin that they deserved to pay for, and is the son of God. The phrase “having faith in Jesus Christ” encompasses all of these things.
In part 2, I will discuss the point that faith in an object is “based on what you know about that object”, and possibly talk about some objections to this definition.