W hat is faith?
This may be the most asked question among people who seek to do God’s will. We know that faith is a necessary, critical element of Christian life and progress. But what is it? How can we explain it so that we may best practice it and enjoy its rewards?
Faith Is Counterintuitive
Right from the outset it may help us to recognize that faith is counterintuitive. It requires us to think, speak, and act as though things we can’t see are right in front of us, and as though things we can see are not (Heb. 11:1). In a manner of speaking, faith overlays God’s reality on our own. Faith is this overlay becoming, for us, the default and actual depiction of what truly exists. Faith consists of recognizing and responding to this bigger, divine reality (Matt. 17:20). Using a metaphor from aviation, faith is trusting your instruments. It’s flying by what the aircraft’s altimeter and compass are saying, not by one’s internal sense of up and down, or even by what one sees when looking through the plane’s windshield. It’s moving through the world in a way that, to our eyes and ears—our normal tools of navigation and equilibrium—often seems wrong.
Then there is this well-known biblical definition of faith: “Faith is . . . assurance about what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1). People tend to talk about faith in terms of belief, and faith does involve belief. That is, it starts there (Mark 9:24). But the only proof of any belief is an action. An action is all that demonstrates a corresponding belief actually exists. Faith is made real, then—functionally expressed—only at the point of doing. Hence the need for “works” when one has faith (James 2:26, NKJV).1
Faith Field Dynamics
However—and this gets to the heart of the argument—I do not think, in fact, that faith is something one “has.” I think it is described this way so that we may understand it. Instead, getting back briefly to the opening notion of an “overlay,” it could be said that faith is, actually, a field
—just like, for example, an electrical field, or a magnetic field—that is, a place particular types of outcomes are certain or likely, given the nature of the space (i.e., the form of the setting, or field).
For example, when one throws a ball into the air, it doesn’t come back down because the ball, or the thrower, has faith. It comes down because it is in a gravitational field.
This means that it is obeying gravitational laws. Obedience to laws is a consistent aspect of fields. It is also an unfailing characteristic of faith.
In other words, faith is not something that one has, or possesses. Faith is the way one moves through
a space; the way one acts in a given context. Faith is both being in that context, and acting accordingly.
In the Gospel of John, at a critical moment, Christ asks His disciples if they intend to leave Him. Absolutely not, Peter replies. “We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:69). This short statement may be the most profound declaration of faith to be found in all of Scripture. The Zondervan NIV Study Bible
includes an insightful note to this verse: “Since the Greek verbs are in the perfect tense, [the words ‘We have come to believe and to know’] mean, ‘We have entered a state of belief and knowledge that has continued until the present time.’ ”2
Not “we have,” or possess, “belief and knowledge,” but “We have entered a state
. . . that has continued until the present time.” In other words, and in line with the idea of faith being a field, John describes “having” faith as movement
; akin to a change in spatial position.
That is, faith is a place
. Faith is something we, again, go into; a locale; a setting; an area. Faith is a destination, arrival at which results in a new viewpoint; a virgin outlook. Faith is where
one stands and
what one sees standing there; the environment. It is not something one “has,” any more than a landscape is something that one “has.”
So—using the language we typically do—when one “has faith,” it merely means that one acts in a way that indicates God’s presence, authority, dominion, and favor are continuous and all-encompassing (Gen. 5:24; Heb. 11:5); that these features of God are literally without limit of distance or scale; infinite in all directions; every-where
. Those who “have faith” are simply seeing, and responding “naturally” to, that which otherwise would be obvious to all (Num. 13:27-30; 2 Kings 6:15-17; Rom. 1:20; Heb. 11:7, 8, 13).
Faith, said in the simplest possible way, is seeing reality from God’s perspective; from His viewpoint. Indeed, one could argue that many places in the Bible where the single word “faith” appears—for example, “the just shall live by . . . faith” (Hab. 2:4, NKJV)—it can accurately and expansively be replaced by those very words, i.e., “the just shall live by seeing reality from God’s perspective” (see also 2 Chron. 20:20; Matt. 9:2; 13:58; Mark 5:34; Luke 17:5; 18:8; John 14:12; Rom. 4:13; Eph. 4:5; Heb. 11:6).
This substitution explains why, in 1 Corinthians 13:13, Paul says that of faith, hope, and love, “the greatest of these is love.” Again, quoting my Study Bible’s
notes: “Love supersedes the gifts because it outlasts them all. Long after these sought-after gifts are no longer necessary, love will still be the governing principle that controls all that God and his redeemed people are and do.”3
What Do You Think?
1. How does this "field theory of faith" affect and instruct our daily life?
2. How would you foster this type of faith in children or young adults?
3. What does a "field theory of faith" tell us about God? How does our concept of faith influence our image of God--or vice versa?
By the time we see God face to face all hope will have been fulfilled. When we are finally sitting at His feet and in His presence, there will be no need for “faith,” because God’s perspective will be all around us, forming the clear essence of obvious reality. It will be in plain view. It will be all we see. It will be all we ever want to see.
If the preceding is true, what should one do, or do differently? What predictions, implications, or outcomes can we make, derive, or expect? I do not know for certain, but here are some that come to mind. (There are, possibly, many others.)
Know that “it already is.” Much of what we seek, like Hagar looking for water or Abraham seeking a sacrifice, is already there. We merely do not see it. That is, it is already in the field. We must simply move into it.
The “feeling of faith” comes from doing, much as a feeling of happiness often comes from smiling or hugging, or the exhilaration one needs to start jogging, when sleepy, comes from jogging.
But, perhaps, most of all: We should not depend on, or wait for, a “faith feeling.” We should, instead, do what God says: i.e., move into His space.
1 Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
2 Kenneth L. Barker, ed., Zondervan NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), p. 1642.
3 Ibid., p. 1793.
Harold Mc Gregor, Jr., writes from New York City, where he lives with his wife, Zakiya. This article was published April 12, 2012.