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Faith Is a Verb
Faith is a Verb
S A Campbell
What comes to mind when you see or hear the word "faith"? Generally the response will be something along the lines of a strong belief or trust in someone or something or strong religious feelings or beliefs. And many will assuredly state they are faithful, because they believe in G-d or at least what their religious affiliation teaches them about G-d and/or they attend some type of worship service, sometimes regularly or occasionally. Essentially they will profess that they have faith because they believe. This kind of faith is a mental state; an inert state of being or thought. But is this the faith that the Bible calls for; an acceptance of a dogma or could it be something different?
If we are to gain an understanding as to what the Holy Bible means by faith we should heed part of something Thomas Jefferson once said regarding varying interpretations of what the U. S. Constitution says. This is somewhat ironic to use Jefferson as an advisor in trying to understand what is faith according to the Bible; because, while he apparently believed in some kind of supreme being he was most vehement in his disbelief of Biblical writings (i.e. the Holy Bible), primarily the divine source of them. However, regarding his comment about understanding what the U. S. Constitution means he advised that "On every question of construction (of the Constitution) let us carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit of the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.” (emphasis added) (1)
To achieve the understanding of what the Bible calls faith and for that much almost every subject related to one's Christian faith, then we must "carry ourselves back to the time when" the Bible was written. We must understand that the Bible is a Hebrew document through and through; it was written by Hebrews, in Hebrew and to primarily a Hebrew audience, so we must examine the Bible with as much of a Hebrew mindset as possible. We must dismiss, as much as possible, our Western, Greek-inspired world view and try to see it through its original world view; an ancient, oriental based view. The basic change we need to make, or at least understand, is that Ancient Hebrew thought and hence its language was concrete based; that is defined things based on the five senses, abstract concepts, which Greek thought utilized significantly, were foreign to Hebrew thought. While such things as love and hate are terms readily easy to use with Greek thought they are next to impossible to use or define in Ancient Hebrew. As was said the Ancient Hebrew language was based on describing things using the five senses; touch, sight, hearing, taste and smell; so try to describe love constrained to those conditions. It is estimated that the English language has over 100,000 words, however Biblical Hebrew only has about 4,000 words. While this vast repository of words and meanings in the English language tends to help minimize ambiguity about what is meant by a word or statements the limited nature of Biblical Hebrew allows for multiple meanings to a word. Coupled with the concrete nature of Hebrew thought, based solely on concepts that can only be experienced through the senses, we must be careful in assigning a potentially limiting Western, Greek-inspired, definition onto a Hebrew word.
Could this be true of what we believe faith is? Could our culture, at best, limit our understanding as to what the Bible calls faith or worse provide us with an incorrect understanding?
So let us try to step back to Ancient Israel to begin our quest. The Hebrew word that is translated as "faith" is emunah; the parent or root word is aman and it means; firm, something that is supported or secure. (see Isaiah 22:23 for example of such a use). Along with emunah another word derived from aman is emun which means a craftsman. During the span of time that the Bible was written emunah (translated as faith) meant either; a) faithful, trusted or trustworthy or b) confidence and trust in G-d.(2) Emunah (faith) did not have anything to do with a mental conviction regarding an established dogma. In fact the word did not receive this meaning until the Middle Ages.(3)
So simply believing in G-d or believing what a particular church claims is not faith, not according to the written word of G-d. True faith is being true or trustworthy in responding to G-d's will. Recall that a related word to emunah (i.e. emun) means a craftsman; one skilled in a profession. with this know ledge and coupled with repeated calls in the Bible about our works we can come to an idea of what faith is according to the Bible.
Oh wait a second! Some may be screaming Paul claims that we are not saved by our works. Actually Paul said one is not justified by works (Gal. 2:16, see also Eph. 2:8-9; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 3:5) while this point is not disputed; that our works can not earn us G-d's forgiveness, but we are still called to perform good works. But why, one may ask, if it isn't required to gain G-d's grace then why do we have to do it? And G-d's response is;
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (Eph. 2:10) That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God (Col. 1:10)
The act of increasing in the knowledge of G-d is what any true craftsman would desire to do; growing in knowledge and skill regarding their profession. They would desire to grow in their faith as we as craftsmen of the word of G-d should also desire and which G-d has provided the means if we truly wish to improve our craft;
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.(2 Timothy 3:16-17) 15 Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle. 16 Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, 17 Comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work.(2 Thess. 2:15-17)
Let it be stressed, performing good works is expected of a true follower of G-d; it is how we display our conviction. To use a modern saying, we can't just talk the talk but also walk the walk or as James put it;
14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, 16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? 17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. 18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. (James 2:14-18)
And so the purpose of our faith, coupled with good works is to;
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Matt. 5:16; emphasis added) Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:12) Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works (Titus 2:14)
So through our good works we bring glory to G-d and inversely our bad works bring shame unto him. Recall that the root word or parent word of faith meant; firm, something that is supported or secure. A related word that stemmed from the same root word means a craftsman and that the word translated as faith means; faithful, trusted or trustworthy or confidence and trust in G-d.
Faith, according to the Bible, is not a sterile, passive condition it denotes action! One can imagine the greatest musical piece ever or the greatest story or painting but it requires action to bring it into existence and one also needs practice and effort to master the profession; to become a craftsman. Recall Abraham, the father of the faithful;
By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went (Heb. 11:8) Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? 22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? (James 2:21-22)
Yes Abraham knew that G-d existed (James essentially says so what, the devils also believe this and tremble (James 2:19)) but he acted when G-d spoke. G-d said get up and move your family to a land that I will show you and he moved! G-d told him to sacrifice his son Isaac and although he had no idea how G-d would fulfill his promises to Abraham if he did this, he acted and was prepared to sacrifice Isaac. As James stresses, faith without works is dead. We gain nothing from our good works; however it is through our good works that we perfect our profession as a follower of G-d and through them we bring glory to G-d!
So is your faith an inert, limp, passive thought, a noun, or is it active, visible and brining glory to G-d, a verb?
(1) Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Johnson, June 12, 1823
(2) The Jewish Encyclopedia; Faith