Closer to Faith


In the Closer to Truth video titled, “How Does Faith Work?” host Robert Lawrence Kuhn has a conversation with four thinkers who discuss what faith is and how they think “it works”.

Lawrence begins the program defining what faith is from the Bible. He’s in a study room, presumably a library where he studies faith. He then poses the question, “Is studying faith self- contradictory? An oxymoron?” The question demonstrates Lawrence’s own search for an answer of what faith is, perhaps even saying out loud what we ask ourselves in silence. He reads from Paul's Letter to the Hebrews: “Now, faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” He then goes on to interview Alister McGrath, a theologian.

Alister McGrath is Professor of Science and Religion at the University of Oxford. He tells Lawrence that people practice faith at every moment in their lives. It’s true, we have faith that the sun will rise in the morning, that when I turn on the faucet, water will come out, etc. When it comes to having faith in God, we might expect a similar practical outcome, but we know that God doesn’t just magically appear (at least visually) when we go to prayer. A faith in God is more complicated than that. McGrath recognizes, then, that there is an element of reasoning involved in having faith. Precisely because we have big fundamental questions about life, he says, we need answers that satisfy. We therefore need transcendental help which is found in God. God helps us with those questions and answers, he tells Lawrence.

The show host then goes to speak with Gregory Ganssle, a Christian Philosopher who tells Lawrence, “You just have to have faith” because, he admits, humans don’t have the answers to everything. Gregory distinguishes between a belief “that” God exists, and a belief “in” a God who exists. To believe that God exists, he clarifies, is to believe there is a God, but that does not necessarily mean that you believe “in” God. In other words, believing “in” God refers more to a relationship with God, trusting in Him, committing oneself to a lifestyle that evolves around God; believing “in” God requires a response, an action on the believer’s part. Gregory then says something very interesting with respect to a God who is “hidden”, meaning who is not seen or who does not make himself explicitly known to us. He says that God is hidden so that faith can flourish. If belief in God requires faith, he continues, then God would have to be hidden. So, I think, there would be no need for faith if we all knew that God existed. Adam and Eve knew God, so I would assume that before the Fall they didn’t need to have faith in God. One of the consequences of the Fall, then, is that humans have trouble experiencing God in their lives due to a rupture in our relationship with God. Ultimately, God isn’t hidden, we humans simply struggle to see Him.

Lawrence then visits John Shellenberg, an Atheist Philosopher of Religion. John says that faith should be voluntary and that faith does not require belief. He gives the example of a parent whose child is severely ill. One may have hope that the child will make it through the illness. One may also believe that the child will make it through the illness. And one might even have faith that the child will heal. To hope, believe and have faith, then, are three separate things. According to John, to have faith that the child will be healed is one thing, but to believe that the child will actually be healed is another. For John, faith means creating such a reality in the imagination. One could imagine the child healed but may not necessarily believe it will be so. He then applies this concept to God. One can hope God exists, believe God exists and/or have faith that God exists. One can imagine that God exists, but one might not actually believe it to be so. This concept appeals to Lawrence who says that according to this premise, he might have faith. John then tells Lawrence that he now just needs to discover how to act in accordance with this faith. In other words, if Lawrence has faith that God exists meaning that he can conceive or imagine the possibility that God exists he now has to find out what creed/religion/philosophy best expresses how to live out that faith.

Lastly, Lawrence visits Edward Wierenga, a Christian Philosopher who says that faith is not contrary to reason. Faith is a gift, he says, and we can’t do anything to make God give it to us. This seems to be a straightforward Christian belief, that God provides us with faith.

At the end of the show, Lawrence tries to pin down a definition of what faith is. He gives a sequence of three factors: First, faith is a rational understanding of extraordinary factors that cannot be proven to be true. Second, faith is a willingness to jump over logic and beyond reason that those extraordinary claims are actually true. Third, faith is a commitment to act upon the belief with behaviors that may differ markedly from prior behaviors. Finally, and in accordance with his final analysis of faith, Lawrence concludes saying that he does have hope, but not faith. “Maybe I think I have another kind of faith”, he says, “a faith that wants to have faith. A meta-faith”.

Whatever Lawrence happens to have, he certainly has a lot of curiosity. I think we are too dependent on definitions to express who we are and what believe. Suppose Lawrence already has faith in God but doesn’t know it or hasn’t found the appropriate definitions or words that express what He thinks or believes. Suppose we know God more than what we think we do but keep thinking there’s more to this thing called faith. Perhaps it isn’t about whether or not we have faith, but it’s more about how to deepen our faith. Lawrence is searching for something or someone beyond himself and that says a lot in itself. He’s searching for answers that will satisfy his curiosity, his need to connect with something or someone greater. That in itself is faith. He imagines a world where there are answers to his questions and he’s out to find them. That expression to look beyond, or simply to look, to want, to desire answers, that in itself is faith. One of the greatest discoveries I have made in my own search for answers, was that the answers I was looking for, were inside me all along. I used to think I had to understand in order to believe. I soon discovered that reason and faith are more intertwined than I thought. Once I decided to believe before I understood, I then understood.

By Edgar Avendano @latinofilmmaker