In Season 2 Episode 9 of the Eudo Podcast, Dr. Paul M. Gould discusses the virtue of faith. We are told that faith in God is blind. Or delusional. Or irrational. It is a “leap into the dark.” It is “something for which there is no evidence.” However, traditionally, faith is understood as one of the three great theological virtues. Theological virtues differ from the cardinal virtues in that are not primarily developed by human power but come from God. So, what is this virtue of faith and how can be grow in this virtue?
In order to gain a proper understanding of faith, let’s make a distinction between what philosophers call “belief that” and “trust in”
Distinction between “belief that” and “trust in”
To say that we belief that God existsis to believe in a proposition. So, we take various attitudes toward propositions. We can acceptthem or we can also rejectpropositions. The main point is this – one necessary component to faith will be epistemic. In exercising faith, I believe that (among other propositions) God exists, God is good, and so on. This means that human faith should be grounded in supporting evidence in order to avoid wishful thinking or cognitive arbitrariness. Biblical faith is reasonable. It is consonant with the deliverance of reason. Importantly, however, belief that God exists is necessary but insufficient for faith. James tells us that even the demons believe thatGod exists. Faith involves another condition—“trust in” God. Thus, in having faith, I both believe that God exists and I trust in God.
One part—the “belief that” part—is epistemic. The other part—the “trust in” part, is existential.
So, properly understood faith involves both belief and trust. Summarizing, faith is best understood as a kind of ventured trust. The virtue of faith is the stable trait of character depend on God in all things. It is the trait of having faith in God expressed through being faithful to God.
Corollaries to this Definition of faith:
First, faith is action-oriented. Faith is on-going and life-involving. We entrust ourselves to God and then live our lives in light of this entrustment. Faith involves all of our being: our intellect, our emotions, our imagination, and our will.
Second, faith is empowering. This is good news—there is a power available to us for change. There is a divine power available to us to live as God intended and we receive and employ this power through faith in God.
Finally, faith is submitting.It is letting God be God in our lives. When we understand faith as ventured trust, it helps us see that we ought to entrust ourselves to God as our authoritative Lord. This means that we must resist the temptation to play God and allow God to be God in our lives. Centrally, this means we must deny ourselves as we wholeheartedly entrust ourselves to God.
Understanding faith as ventured trust also helps us understand, biblically, the nature of powerfor living. At its best then, power leads to human flourishing: “Power creates and shapes an environment where creatures can flourish, making room for the variety, diversity and unpredictability [of the created world] (Andy Crouch, Playing God)”
One objection to this idea of faith is epistemic – it is the idea that there is insufficient evidence for faith. How can we respond to this worry Paul?
The truth is God has provided evidence for his existence. Daily there are millions of signs of his existence and nature for those who have eyes to see. The question isn’t one of evidence. Rather, it is a moral issue: are we willing to come to God on his terms or ours?
As a step toward intellectual humility, we might begin by asking: What kind of knowledge is appropriate for God? How does God want us to know him? Does he want us to merely know about him, or does God want us to know him as Lord? When we look at how Jesus related to the Father in the gospels, we begin to see a different picture of how God wants us to know him. Jesus uses familial language: father, son, child. Jesus is speaking of knowing God as an authoritative and giving Father. Thus, proper knowledge of God, according to Jesus requires that we each individually stand in a humble, faithful, and loving child-parent, or filial relationship with God.
Given God’s aim for us of transformative knowledge, God has no reason to offer undeniable evidence, or insuppressible evidence that would produce mere propositional knowledge that God exists, even if God has offered adequate available evidence for our coming to know that God exists.
God can make us whole. As we grow in the virtue of faith we will become more and more like him. May you be strengthened in knowing that God is “ableto keep you from falling” and that one day God will “present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy” (Jude 24). This is the great and powerful God whom we follow and worship as we walk by faith and cultivate the virtue of faith.
- Crouch, Andy. Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013.
- Hunter, James Davison. To Change the World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.
- Moser, Paul. “Faith,” in Being Good: Christian Virtues for Everyday Life, eds. Michael W. Austin and R. Douglas Geivett. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2012.
- Parris, Matthew. “As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God,” Times Online, December 27, 2008 accessed at http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/matthew_parris/article5400568.ece