The concept of faith as belief is a fairly recent one. It stems from the Protestant Reformation (15th century) when new denominations were sprouting up, proclaiming different systems of belief. To have faith then was to believe in a particular set of doctrine and practices. And then during the Enlightenment period, in the 1800s, “truth” became equated with “factuality.” Suddenly it became important to believe or have faith in all of the extraordinary things in the Biblical stories (no matter how unbelievable) as literally happening. Faith was how you believed the impossible, the improbably, the iffy. It was the suspension of reason and rational thought just because the church told you it really happened, and you couldn’t be a Christian if you didn’t believe it.
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Faith as belief is very widespread, but it seems a rather odd notion. Does God really care if you believe in the “correct” thing? Whether you are sprinkled or dunked at your baptism, and whether it happens at day 8 or age 13 or ever? Does God care if you believe in the Virgin Birth? Or transubstantiation? Or that Jesus really turned water into wine?
As Marcus Borg has said, there is very little transformational power in that type of faith. But there is a great amount of transformational power in faith as radical trust.
When we speak of faith as radical trust, it is not trust in statements about God, but trust in the real thing – the God that we have experienced and know, the God who is beyond any belief structure. Perhaps it is more appropriate to speak of faithing. This makes faith a verb and an action that we each practice. Theologian Soren Kierkegaard used the analogy that faith is like floating in 70,000 fathoms of water. To float one must consciously relax, take deep breaths and trust in the water for suppport. Faithing requires the same action, relaxing into the knowledge that the Divine will support us when we are in over our heads, or trying to ride out the storms of life.
Our struggle is that we often let fear overtake us. In the story of Jesus calming the storm, we find Jesus asleep in the back of the boat, while the disciples are panicking and afraid they are going to drown. Finally, they decide to wake Jesus up. We give the guys a bad rap for that, but perhaps that is what faithing is, remembering during the storms in life that we’re not alone and giving a little shout out to God to remind us of that. “Okay, God, we’re a little nervous and scared here and you seem to be sleeping through this. Could you just wake up a little and calm this storm around us?” And the answer is, take a deep breath, center and trust in the Divine, and let the anxiety go. All will be well.
Faithing can be really hard when the waves get high and the wind ferocious, but the more we learn to float, the more transformative faithing will be in our lives. The more we trust, the more we live in the present moment without fear. The more we live and love without anxiety. The more we allow the Spirit to lead us in being a transformative presence in the world.