“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
This is a description of faith based on the outcomes it produces. That is, turning the unseen and hope into physical reality. But, what exactly is faith? And how, if at all, does it differ from reason? Faith is a three-part process that requires more thinking than people of faith are given credit for investing.
Faith begins with information. Christians are familiar with Paul’s assertion that “…faith comes by hearing…” It’s impossible to believe in something you haven’t heard about. That’s why there’s Google. You hear about something you have no idea about, next minute you’re on Google. But before Google, there were books, libraries, teachers who actually knew things, parents, and friends. Let’s say that we have heard that, by faith, it possible to walk on water. You have also heard that some people have actually done it after asking God for the ability. You have the information…step one.
Once Faith gains the information, it is time to process it. Here’s where thinking comes in. The first thing to consider is the source of the information. Here is where people willing to ignore authoritative sources lose out. They say taking someone’s word for it is not a reasonable approach to knowledge. Of course, they are playing the hypocrite here because the vast majority of any person’s knowledge is gained by taking someone’s word for it.
I had a favorite teacher in college who once told our class, “This is the formula for solving quadratic equations. You don’t have to understand how or why it works…not yet. Simply take my word for it that it works, memorize it, use it.” He was absolutely right. I took his word for it, used the equation over and over, and suddenly, one day a light came on! I knew how and why. In essence, this is our experience with every single thing taught to us.
Did astronauts land on the moon? How do you know? You took someone’s word for it. They may have had pictures and video, but you still looked at the evidence and said, “Yeah, I agree.” That’s mental assent, believing the evidence, and it is the second step of Faith.
But knowing the information and agreeing to it are not enough…not by a long shot. Here we introduce James’ comment on the emptiness of information and assent alone. “You believe there is one God; you do well: the devils also believe, and tremble.”
The final step is to trust the information and your decision on its validity enough to act upon it. My favorite story of faith. Peter walking on water which is our test case of faith. Here’s the story for those who haven’t heard it.
It’s a dark and stormy night. The twelve disciples of Jesus are in a boat on the Sea of Galilee and the boat in foundering. They see this spirit walking on the waves and headed for their boat. It’s Jesus…or they think it is. So Peter calls out that if that’s you, Lord, tell me to come out on the water. Jesus tells him to come on down. Peter had all the information he needs, mentally assents to the task. Now, comes trust. He jumps out of the boat and walks on water. That’s faith.
Someone will remind me, but Peter started sinking and Jesus had to rescue him…his faith failed. To which I have two things to say. First, we are not told how Peter got back in the boat. Was he carried? Did he walk? Did he walk holding Jesus’ hand? We’re not old because it’s not important. What’s important is that he did it and even when things went badly, Jesus was there to help. Secondly, there were eleven other guys in that boat, men of faith, who chose to play it safe. Great faith requires great daring. It’s when you dare to step out that faith shines.