We often talk about faith as something you have in things you can’t see with your eyes. Hebrews holds that “faith is the assurance of things unseen.” Martin Luther King, Jr. defined faith as “taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
But in most human lives, the hardest moments of faith aren’t about what we can or can’t see, but what we can or can’t be sure of in the things we do see. I know my boyfriend shows up to our dates, and says the right things – but can I have faith that he really loves me, and only me, and won’t betray me? If someone has committed a crime against me, do I have faith that telling the police will lead to more safety, and they will treat people fairly, as I’ve been told, or will it make things worse, as some have experienced?
Because of the eternal “Does God exist?” question, we tend to frame lots of spiritual questions as real/not real quandaries. But in our lives, most major dilemmas of faith are not about whether something exists or not, but about whether we truly know the nature of something that undoubtedly exists, is right in front of us, and needs us to respond based on our understanding.
I’m thinking about this because of the persistence of a question which seems, to me, nonsensical – “Do you believe in Jesus?”
‘Believing in Jesus,’ for the most part, has nothing to do with being a Christian, and nothing to do with anything. On a literal level it’s sort of like asking “Do you believe in Lady Gaga?” or “Do you believe in Charlemagne?” No one would seriously deny that some dude named Jesus existed, approximately 2,000 years ago, and had some friends who wrote some stuff down about him.
Even if you take it as I think it’s meant – “Do you believe that Jesus as described in the Bible is your Savior, and have you said that out loud in some way?” it’s still a woefully insufficient question for getting to know about someone’s faith, and about whether or not they are a Christian.
In the Great Commissioning of disciples, Jesus does not say “Teach them to believe in me, and to say that I am awesome.” He says “Baptize them” and “Teach them to obey what I have commanded you,” because “I am always with you.” (Matt. 28)
He’s not concerned with us continuing to believe he’s there after he’s gone, but with us continuing to act like he is next to us now (because he is). It’s about what we do, how we respond to a continuing relationship with God, and how our faith drives us to behave in the world we inhabit.
Faith is not about saying, “Where I see nothing, there is something.” It is about saying, “Where I see something, there is even more, which moves me and guides me and shapes me as I relate to it.” Hebrews, after all, says that faith is the substance of things unseen. As we bump up against the substance of anything we have faith in we are inevitably changed, for better or for worse.
Do you have faith? What in and, more importantly, how do you know? What does your faith in and beyond the visible cause you to do, as you are living your life in the world?