Faith. Aside from “God” or “Jesus,” “faith” is one of the most common words heard at church. But what does it mean? What is faith? What does it mean to have faith? As with most things, it seems, I think I have more questions than answers.
When I was in junior high, I heard that, “Hope is praying for rain; faith is carrying an umbrella.” Ok. Fair enough. But what if it doesn’t end up raining? What if, despite a 100% chance of rain, not one drop fell from the sky? Is my faith not strong enough? Do I lose faith?
Sometimes faith is portrayed as hoping against hope. That statement could be true of Christians, too. When all certainty and rationality tell us one thing, we are persistent in our trust. Not only that, but we put action to our hopes. Not only do we believe with everything we have that something as true, but we act as if it is. I think the reflection from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin below highlights this way of living in the world well:
Expectation—anxious, collective and operative expectation of an end of the world, that is to say, of an issue for the world—that is perhaps the supreme Christian function and the most distinctive characteristic of our religion.
Historically speaking, that expectation has never ceased to guide the progress of our faith like a torch…. We persist in saying that we keep vigil in expectation of the Master. But in reality we should have to admit, if we were sincere, that we no longer expect anything. The flame must be revived at all costs. At all costs we must renew in ourselves the desire and the hope for the great coming. But where are we to look for the source of this rejuvenation? From the perception of a more intimate connection between the victory of Christ and the outcome of the work which our human effort here below is seeking to construct.
I think de Chardin synthesizes the Christian life beautifully. At the core of the Christian tradition is a sense of expectation, and a sense that what is expected is continuously coming nearer to us. David Lose, recently-appointed President of Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, calls this phenomenon “in the meantime.” I think what he means is that we place our hope and trust and faith in the promise God makes to restore all of creation; and in the meantime, we work to make that promised future a reality. We are actively engaged in building that new future.
What a strange way to live…
Questions for reflection: What do you hope for? Are you ever surprised by your hopes? Do they ever seem far-fetched or irrational? What is the connection between your work in the world and the work of God in the world? How might you seek to align your hopes for the world with your work in the world?