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What is the Virtue of Faith
A Pervasive Term
Faith is the perhaps the center most aspect of our Christian worldview. It is the essence of what it means to be a Believer. It is our salvation. Considering it's so important, shouldn't we really know what we're talking about when we use the term? What does faith mean? Is it synonymous with "trust"? Is it a feeling, a will, or a complete gift? Does it operate exclusive from works? Can we have faith in human beings? All these are questions implicit in the use of the word "faith", but which seldom are addressed because "Faith" is such a popular word.
Common Bible Verses
Some of the most popular verses concerning "faith" are:
Mk 10:52-- "Jesus told him, "Go your way; your faith has saved you." Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way."
Luke 7:9--"When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him and, turning, said to the crowd following him, "I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith."
Rom 3:28--"For we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law."
Eph 2:8--"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God"
Hb 11:1--"Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen."
James 2:24--"See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone"
"Contradictions" set aside (for some shall be addressed later), each of these verses provide us a glimpse of what the term "faith" actually means.
The etymology of the word "Faith" is complex... there are numerous words and derivations in both Greek and Hebrew, so an examination of the most basic roots of the word is best.
'Aman--This Hebrew word (אָמַן) is the verb form of "faith", meaning (among many other things like "foster mother") "to confirm, believe, or verify". In its noun form, the word can mean "a pillar or one who is established". This primitive root appears 108 times in the OT and is most often translated as "believe".
Pistis--This Greek word (πίστις) is the noun form of "faith" meaning, "conviction of truth or belief predominantly with trust".
Secular Etymology-- In other languages such as Old French, Latin, PIE, meanings of the root include, "faith, belief, trust, confidence, and pledge".
Because of the complex nature of Faith, it is helpful to consult a few well known outside sources to broaden our view.
Aquinas: Aquinas discusses faith in the Second of Second parts of his Summa. Aquinas claims that all faith concerns things revealed by God and that it is a virtue perfecting the Intellect (and thus in perfection is not subject to falsehood). He states that true faith is certain, whereas faith with an element of doubt and/or fear is called opinion. Finally, faith, since it is an intellectual virtue, should hinge on reason.
C.S. Lewis: Discusses faith in Book three of his book, Mere Christianity. His definition of faith is "the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods". Thus, faith is not an emotion, but a virtue--something that must be practiced and worked towards in the face of challenge. He also, like Aquinas, says that faith cannot be separated from reason. Finally, he says that faith requires an element of Humility, in that we must realize that we will fail in practicing this virtue sometimes.
Paul Tillich: In his book "Dynamics of Faith" Paul Tillich defines Faith as "Ultimate Concern". In other words, what we are most concerned about is what we have faith in. Additionally, for Tillich, this faith is an act of the personality. Tillich says that faith is both certain (in so far as it is based off of experience and reason), and uncertain (in the sense that in many cases it unites the finite and the infinite). However, doubt and uncertainty are unavoidable and must be accepted. A whole separate hub could be dedicated to "Tillichian Faith", so that brief synopsis will do for now.
You Gotta Have Faith-a-Faith-a-Faith!
What then are the characteristics of Faith? Based on the previous evidence, we can conclude that True Faith:
Is Belief: In its most basic sense, faith is simply belief. This is perhaps best summed up in Hebrews when it says faith is "evidence of things not seen". It can be based off revelation, authority, or our own reason, but must always fly in the face of doubt.
Is Virtue: As Humans our faith is not perfect (again, we doubt), and so it must be perfected through practice. This is the very definition of virtue. Thus, it is in the struggles where our faith is made even more strong, and because of this, faith is also efficacious--it has results. Faith leads us towards salvation, and while not dependent on works, is made manifest and fruitful through our works. It also leads us to the virtues of Hope and Love. Finally , because it is a 'Theological Virtue', it is a gift from God, and not of our own nature. The Virtue of Faith is efficacious.
Requires Reason: If faith were an emotion then we would all lose it on our bad days. This is not so... and is further evidence that faith is a virtue. Even when we doubt, when we're angry with God, or we're depressed, we are still (usually) able to have faith in God. Furthermore, faith is not a blindfold, it is not meant as a way of ignoring the truths of the world, but a way of understanding reality more fully. Therefore, we must always have a reason for why we believe. This is imperative if we are not to be lead astray, and also so that we may "take possession" of what we believe.
Relates to Trust: While not trust in a strict sense, because it overcomes doubt, there is an element of trust in every act of faith. We must trust that what we have reasoned, been revealed, or experienced is indeed in accord with reality.
Relates to Humility: Faith is humble in two ways, 1) when we lack it, we must be able to accept that and grasp it again. A man who denies any lack of faith isn't practicing faith at all, but rather fear. 2) Faith is a surrender--it is an acknowledgement of our finitude, of our ignorance, and on our need for something greater than our self. Were one to be prideful, and think they had all the answers, they would not need faith.
Bringing it Together
So we finally see that faith is not the simple term we thought it was. It has so many facets. We see that to have faith is not always easy, and thus to "have faith" we must also have virtue, doubt, reason, trust, and humility.
No wonder Jesus was so hard pressed to find true men and women of faith! When he did though, it was their faith (and their manifestation of that faith) that healed (saved) them.
Let us pray, bothers and sisters, that we all may grow in faith, that we may truly believe no matter what the challenge.
© 2010 rdlang05