What is Faith?

John Telgren


Most people, regardless of their walk in life or their religious background, are enamored with the idea of faith.  In popular media, there is a theology of faith that has shaped the concept of faith in the minds of many people.  The overarching philosophy in popular media is a form of existentialism, which basically teaches that there is no overarching meaning in the universe and therefore we are left to create our own meaning.  Movies such as Avatar and Dances with Wolves clearly portray this message.  This naturally makes faith something intensely personal and subjective.  The object of faith, according to this scheme, is not something universal and objective, but something entirely constructed by the human mind.  In fact, it is not uncommon in popular media for faith to be portrayed as a delusion.  Even though there is solid evidence that contradicts the claims of faith, people still hang on to their faith.  This is acceptable to many because of the belief that faith is not grounded in fact, but in the subjective feelings of the heart.   However, biblical Christians reject this notion of faith because they know that Christian faith is rooted in the acts of God in history, not in a subjective feeling.  Perhaps this is why bible believing Christians are usually caricatured in the movies as idiots, buffoons, or deranged. 


How does the Bible describe faith?  It is rooted in God's action in history.  God created the heavens and the earth (Gen 1).  God made a covenant with Abraham that all the families of the earth would be blessed through his descendant (Gen 12).  God protected Abraham's descendants by delivering them from the Egyptian attempts at extermination (Ex 1-14).  Jesus is the promised seed of Abraham (Mt 1)  Jesus demonstrated that he was from God by attacking all the strongholds of Satan through casting out demons, healing the sick, raising the dead, and ultimately by being raised from the dead himself (Mk).   We are called to have faith that God raised Christ from the dead (Rom 10:9).  These are historical events.  It is not something we construct in our minds nor is it subjective.  The fact that people did not actually lay eyes on the creator does not reduce him to a subjective feeling.  In fact, God declared that no one could see his face and live (Ex 33:20).  As a result, people saw or heard manifestations of God, whether it was fire, thunder, smoke, a thundering voice, or glowing glory.  Our faith is rooted in historical fact.  Our belief in God and what he is like has been demonstrated by God's own actions throughout history.  Humans do not construct their own meaning and their own faith.  Meaning is found in the creator and redeemer. 


Hebrews 11:1 says that faith is the "assurance" or "substance" of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen.  Faith and hope are connected.  Romans 8:24 reminds us that hope that is seen is not hope at all.  We hope it what is not seen.  However, this does not make faith or hope subjective.  In fact, the word "assurance" or "substance" in Heb 11:1 comes from the Greek word hupostasis, which means firmness, substance, reliability, foundation.  Used figuratively, it means a firm attitude, or assurance.  It is the word Greeks used for something that is a solid foundation or the basis on which one can get a foothold.  Unlike things that exists but have no form or substance, such as our thoughts, hupostasis was something of substance.  This indicates that biblical faith is not a subjective feeling, but is based on solid reality.


The object of our faith is a personal being and his physical actions.  Our faith is founded on God and his redemptive acts through Christ who will return and take us to our eternal home with God.