What is faith? I believe it is an unwavering belief in something. Although its use has been mainly delegated to questions of religion, you can also have faith in yourself, in your government, in your future. Its trademark is a strong and positive conviction and outlook influencing the actions of your present and projecting optimism into the future.
Yet where does faith come from? Are you born with it or can you acquire it in later life? And how is it different from having confidence and trust in an outcome or oneself? Because of its overwhelming effect on and tie with religion, I will first try to examine its spiritual aspects before I turn to psychological matters. So what does Christian religion say about faith?
For a Christian, faith is mainly believing in God, often in Jesus Christ as the Lord and Redeemer of the world and human sins. In many cases, it is a strong feeling that illuminates your belief system and sheds light into your core being. Your life suddenly becomes imbued with a sense of direction, purpose and vocation.
Some claim that it is the Holy Spirit or sometimes Jesus himself tapping on your shoulder and giving you a glimpse of truth by changing your perspectives on life and death. St. Paul became converted through such a divine appearance and made this type of faith popular. In fact, St. Paul changed the focus and emphasis of baptism from the washing away of sins of newborns to experiencing death and resurrection in Christ as an adult. Born-again Christians use Baptism in the Pauline sense to explain their rebirth and continuous faith in Christ, while Catholics prefer to see baptism as the purging of Original Sin.
But how does faith come about? Are we chosen and predestined by God to have faith? In other words, why does the Holy Spirit refuse to give me a visit?
Some claim that you must deserve it by living an exemplary life. In such cases, it is seen as a reward for good behavior. Others may say that one needs to be prepared and ready for such a visit, or rather send out an open invitation addressed to the Holy Spirit. Notwithstanding, the Spirit makes unannounced visits as well, such was the case of St. Paul who was actually persecuting Christians and was suddenly converted into a saint.
If it was ordained and predestined by God, if the Almighty determines beforehand who has faith and who does not, then what can we do but hope? And why preach anything about faith since the “unchosen” ones will never have or be able to attain it? Would such a thing not be cruel, like eating savoury chocolate in front of a diabetic?
If, however, there is a chance of gaining faith, how would it work? What do you need to do? People say you need to believe in God, but what if you do not? What if you are incapable of believing in Him, no matter how hard you try and whatever you do? Can you accuse someone of doing something they are not “wired” or capable to do?
Belief is something that cannot be forced and if it is, it will lead to sheer hypocrisy and make-believe, and I am sure that this is not what preachers and missionaries are really after. By extension, if God has already decided who to save, then what is the point of trying to save souls that are destined to be damned anyhow? Because in the end, God has the ultimate word and authority.
But let us assume that faith is for those who deserve to have it. That it is mostly mental or psychological, just like confidence. The better you do something, the more recognition you get from others for your efforts, the higher your self-esteem and self-confidence will rise. It would work then on similar grounds for faith. Those who are pure and good at heart and live a life void of hatred and evil intentions will gain faith.
In that case, however, what about all those good people who simply doubt their own abilities and their capacity to have faith? Is doubt evil? If we do not doubt, how can we achieve any real certainty, how are we immune from misguided perceptions? It would be what is often referred to as a kind of blind faith, which can have very dangerous and disastrous consequences, as cults and sects demonstrate.
To sum up, faith can give you wings. It can make you believe in yourself and in others. It can bring you closer to God. However, it is undefined, raw and mysterious. We do not know how one has it and why others do not acquire it. We cannot know for certain that people actually have faith, as they could pretend that they do, while we have little to objectively verify and examine the faith of a person. Faith, just like the Lord Himself, works indeed in mysterious ways.