by Rebecca Bynum (January 2013)
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. – Hebrews 11:1
It is interesting to note that people who have never experienced real faith, often mistake faith for a kind of hope and an irrational hope at that. To them, faith seems a very fragile thing, apt to crumble in one's hands the way hope often will. Faith, they believe, is simply a wishful attitude and nothing more.
But those who have experienced faith know it to be more, much more, than mere hope. Faith is the living spiritual connection between oneself and one’s creator. It is the result of complete trust and unconditional devotion to a loving and personal God – a being who is goodness personified. Belief in God the Father is not faith, but belief may reach faith levels when it dominates our thinking so much that it molds our lives entirely. The overwhelming conviction arises through faith that God is that something, or rather someone, for whom life is absolutely worth living and faith assures us that all our pain and striving has an eternal purpose, even that a great destiny may await on the other side of the veil of death for which this life is a mere preparation.
Faith banishes that paralyzing fear that perhaps we have placed our hope in a phantom or that all our life and work might in fact be in vain. Faith removes fear and fear, more than anything else, is the great obstacle of life. For this reason alone, one would think faith would be assiduously courted by all.
Then fear drove out all intelligence from my mind. – Ennius in Cicero, Tusculan Disputations, iv. 8.
Unreasoning fear has certainly caused more human anguish than any other emotion. Fear has many times caused normally rational people to commit murder or has driven them to madness or suicide – death being preferable to living with relentless, nameless and fatiguing fear.
On the other hand, a quick perusal of history’s most illustrious examples of the exhibition of heroism in the face of pain, humiliation and death (often under physical torture) have been man and women of profound religious faith.
Faith is not a product of thought, reason or imagination; neither is it a product of emotion, although hope is connected to both mind and feeling. Faith is pure spiritual experience and because it is an experience, it cannot adequately, that is rationally, be explained to someone who has never had such an experience. The faithful believer experiences a deep and abiding inner assurance which cannot be transferred to another person and is thus quite baffling to those without it. Nevertheless, faith has been the cement holding families, communities, nations and civilizations together since the dawn of humanity.
Faith is more than knowing, more than believing, more than hoping God exists. Faith is the experience of God’s presence, the assurance of his goodness and certain reception of the reason for living. Faith is the great channel through which our daily bread is given. Faith is the ladle with which we dip the living spiritual water and refresh our souls. Faith is a muscle which must be exercised in order to grow; the rigors and uncertainties of life actually aid one’s faith. (The monastic life may not, in fact, be very conducive to the growth of faith in the hearts of its devotees.)
While prayer gives voice to hope for the future, faith affirms a belief that whatever the future holds is ultimately an expression of the Father’s benevolent will, even if that will may be thwarted in the short term by the selfish and unwise acts of his erring children. We may be able to destroy ourselves, even our entire planet, but we cannot destroy the entire universe. Thus, our free will is limited, but it is no less free.
We have the power to set our souls on the path of righteousness, to seek mercy, honor truth and revere goodness, but we cannot save ourselves from the grave. Any hope of eternal continuance of being requires faith and faith is not the forlorn hope some believe it to be. Faith is active, alive, thrilling and real. Faith is our salvation and faith is the one thing powerful enough to dominate life entirely. That is why, I believe, faith is so often feared and shunned.
Faith grants peace beyond understanding – freedom from fear – and yet, because it is so all-consuming, many intelligent men count the cost and decide they cannot afford to live for something beyond themselves which they cannot see, hear, taste or touch, something beyond their control, something that will, in fact, control them. This is beyond the tolerance of the modern ego-self. But ultimately, who is more deluded: the man who willingly gives control of his life to the great controller, or the one who imagines himself to be in full control? Babies undoubtedly imagine that, according to the law of cause and effect, it is their crying which produces milk.
Neither should one imagine that a life of faith is a life of ease. Nothing could be further from the truth. Faith requires immense effort, both within and without. The greatest men and women of faith have been those of great action. Think of John the Baptist or Joan of Arc. These were not people who shrank from life, but lived lives of faith-filled action and changed history forever with their heroic deeds. Most of us, naturally, are not called to such heights of spiritual demonstration, but we can, each in our station, walk humbly with God and shine his light upon the world to the best of our abilities. It is eternally true that “he who loses his life shall find it.” Faith is that losing and that finding at once - the ultimate liberator.
Rebecca Bynum's latest book is Allah is Dead, Why Islam is Not a Religion.
To comment on this essay, please click here.
To help New English Review continue to publish thought provoking essays like this one, please click here.
If you have enjoyed this article, and would like to read more by Rebecca Bynum, click here.
Rebecca Bynum contributes regularly to The Iconoclast, our Community Blog. Click
here to see all her contributions, on which comments are welcome.