A few weeks ago I was discussing Christianity with a friend, and discovered that his understanding of the word ‘faith’ was different to mine.
It brings back the memory of a similar conversation with a Hindu uncle who said to me: “You must have faith to be saved!” For my uncle, what was crucial was having faith – who you had faith in wasn’t the issue.
If you look up the definition of ‘faith’ on the internet, you’ll get a variety of perspectives. If you ask others what they understand by the word faith, and dig a little bit at what is behind their understanding, you may discover, as I did in my recent discussion, that they include / exclude essential components of faith which you wouldn’t. But even different faiths, as well as those who reject faith, have different understandings of faith!
Closely linked to faith is the question of how we interpret what we experience.
When I visited a Hindu group in Wembley, a gentleman said to me: “When I first came here, this person walked in who I hadn’t met, and instinctively I knew that I should follow him. I didn’t realise he was the head of the centre. I’ve been part of this group for over 20 years.”
How do we check that our interpretation of an experience is valid? Or do experiences somehow authenticate what we believe about them? Just because we experience something, does that make our interpretation true? Just because we believe something, does that make what we believe in true? Does faith authenticate truth? Or is that just faith in ‘faith’?
When I was younger I was given a present, and intuitively I believed that if I kept it with me, it would protect me and help me do well in exams. However one day it was accidentally damaged, and I realised that it couldn’t look after itself, let alone me. It was my first lesson in developing an understanding of faith, what I would call ‘a reasonable faith’.
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
- John 20:29