From the vantage point of a believer, the truth of the faith may seem obvious. But to a non-believer, faith claims seem like little more than blind assertions that can’t be proven or disproven.
So what exactly is faith? Let’s investigate.
Faith is like both doubt and knowledge.
Faith is a weird mental act. It shares some things in common with doubt and suspicion, namely, mental unrest. The object of faith isn’t as apparent as, say, the pain you feel in your little toe after stubbing it on a boulder.
However, faith is also like understanding, knowledge, and wisdom in that there’s a certain stability to it. It’s not something that changes with your mood.
It’s an assent of not just the intellect but also the will. This ensures that you hold firmly to your beliefs even in moments of doubt. It’s not just a matter of “seeing,” but also the choice to see.
As C.S. Lewis said, “Faith is the art of holding on to things in spite of your changing moods and circumstances.”
Faith is not completely blind.
Normally, faith begins with a vague perception of something that presents itself as possibly true. You may investigate it for a while to test its credibility. There are what we call “signs of credibility” that bolster the claims of faith, such as miracles.
These signs of credibility only take you so far. Eventually, you’ll have to make a choice: take a leap of faith or pull back.
God gives the grace of faith.
While there is such a thing as human faith, the theological virtue of faith comes from God. It’s not something we can manufacture in ourselves, although we can dispose of ourselves to more openly receive it.
The certainty of faith is based on God.
Through reason, we can know the existence of God and some of His attributes — one being that He is truth itself. He can neither deceive nor be deceived.
This certainty, along with the grace given to us by God, gives us assurance that anything God reveals can be trusted, even if the revelation itself doesn’t seem to make sense.
Even though some beliefs are above reason, they can still be shown to be reasonable.
For example, our minds can never fully comprehend or prove the doctrine of the Trinity. But philosophy can help us understand it better through categories such as “person” and “nature.”
You can also bolster faith’s credibility by showing that it does a better job of illuminating our experience than alternative beliefs. To quote C.S. Lewis again, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
Ultimately, faith has much in common with human relationships. A relationship where two people need constant proof that each other is genuine is a partnership doomed to failure. The choice to have faith in the other is a condition for taking the relationship to the next level.
The same is true with our relationship with God. As Pope John Paul II wrote:
“In believing, we entrust ourselves to the knowledge acquired by other people. This suggests an important tension. On the one hand, the knowledge acquired through belief can seem an imperfect form of knowledge, to be perfected gradually through personal accumulation of evidence; on the other hand, belief is often humanly richer than mere evidence, because it involves an interpersonal relationship and brings into play not only a person’s capacity to know but also the deeper capacity to entrust oneself to others, to enter into a relationship with them which is intimate and enduring.”