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What is Faith?

See also "What is Truth?"  &
The Authority of the Bible in a Scientific Age

We do not define truth, we discover it.  But we do define 'truth', which is a word naming or pointing to truth.  We must define our words or we will not be able to communicate well. 

People think such words as 'truth', 'faith', 'God', etc., are impossible to define, but they use them anyhow, often without rational meaning.  Most people, believers and unbelievers alike, think faith is irrational, or at least non-rational, anyhow, and so conclude again that it is not definable.  But it is a word in the English language which is crucially important, so we had better give it a try -- or remain in the horrendous confusion into which religion in general has fallen in the 19th, 20th, and now 21st centuries.

Faith generally has three meanings, some of them apparently contradictory, but few people try to sort them out or carefully use them. 

1. ....

2. the personal meaning -- I trust you, I have faith in you, I believe that you are trustworthy, that if I leave my money on the table, it will still be there when I get back.

3. the creedal or intellectual meaning -- the Hindu faith, the Muslim faith, the Jewish faith, or the Christian faith -- the list of beliefs of that religion. 

4. the blind leap, the willingness to take a risk, sometimes a leap in the dark, what you do when you run out of evidence while defending your beliefs.  All decisions are to some extent, however small, risky.  We never have all the evidence.  But as evidence mounts, we move forward.   

I left out #1 because there is another meaning for the word 'faith' which is almost never associated with faith at all, but it is right at the core and foundation of the Biblical meaning of faith.  Faith means "openness to the truth", a willingness to risk my belief to an open, honest test to see whether what I believe is indeed the truth of the matter.  The kind of faith exhibited by Elijah on Mount Carmel (I Kings 18:17 ff.).  "If I am wrong, I want to know.  I am willing to risk whatever I must to get at the truth." 

God was telling Elijah to get up to Mount Carmel, and what to do when he got there.  So God is willing to risk His own case in just such an open contest.  The Biblical principle being that the true God can show up and prove His own case. 

So we have four meanings for the word 'faith' -- adding

1. openness to the truth.

We can expand that a bit to clarify:

Faith means a belief that there is a truth, and that by accurate observation
and by careful reasoning from my observations I will be led to the truth, to "what is". 

Faith is thus based on observation and logic.  If I am living my life by that #1 principle, three things will happen:

2. I will have the best chance of an accurate perception of who is and is not trustworthy.  My faith in others will tend to be rightly placed;

3. my belief system, my list of beliefs about the world and its meaning, i.e., my religion, will have the best chance of being accurate; and

4. the more I live by truth-seeking and truth-speaking, the less and less I will have to leap blindly when I come to a decision.  I will be learning to find my way around reality.  When I first drive from La Habra, California, to New York City, I carefully plan my trip, maps, stops, etc.  After the tenth trip, I hardly pull out a map.  I know the way.  I could still get lost in a fog, a detour, etc.  But I feel quite confidant about the trip.  The leap of #4 is increasingly a leap into the light, not the dark.  I begin to close the gap between my knowledge and the truth as it really is. 

Those, of course, are also the principles of science.  There is no conflict in principle between the epistemology of the natural sciences and the epistemology of Biblical religion.  In the Biblical world, both natural science and religion run by faith.  Secular scientists are likewise constrained to run by the same four aspects of faith, like it or not.  Or it will not be science, a research after truth.     

Faith is thus the operational or epistemological definition of truth, it gives the operations which, if followed, lead to the truth.  See truth for the ontological definition of 'truth'. 

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