Why is Faith so Important?

 

Doubt in the religious and spiritual world is universal.  For believers, faith is the answer.  The problem with faith is that it cannot be verified...its not supposed to be verified.  And that is precisely why people go to Mexico with terminal cancer to seek care from “faith healers.”  Faith does not serve those people well. 


Not all aspects of faith are so dangerous.  In fact, faith can do much good; it provides hope and peace in life and it motivates people to serve others.   But faith is not and never has been a basis for finding truth.  Truth is borne on facts.  Facts are found through scrutiny.  I am willing to believe, I want to believe, but I will require a higher level of proof.  I may be wrong in feeling this way.  After all, I do understand that faith is the essence of religion.  But therein also lies the trap. 


In the LDS tradition, faith is central.  The fourth Article of Faith spells it out pretty clearly:  “We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: First, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ...”  But despite it’s central position in our theology, faith has always been a cloudy concept for me.


Faith is defined as the evidence of things hoped for, but not seen (Hebrews 11:1).  I guess this means that faith is belief in something that you can’t see.  This is the standard definition, but still fairly vague.  The term “evidence” is used as though somehow faith, or belief, by its self, is to serve as evidence for what is believed.  This is circular.  I will give the concept a fair chance, though, and just assume that it means that we need to believe without proof.


We learn in Hebrews 11:6 that it is impossible to please God without faith.  That explains why faith is the “first” principle of the Gospel according to Joseph Smith.  But faith in what?  Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  This means that we need to believe that He is our Lord, Savior and Redeemer and that He fulfilled His mission.  It is also implied that we believe that there is more for us after this life and that because of our belief in Christ we will be partakers in eternal life.


I would like to believe that I have a fair understanding of the concept.  To put it more simply, if we simply believe in Jesus Christ, we will be saved in the next life.  In most of Christianity, that is the message.  In LDS theology, we also have to have a few ordinances (baptism, gift of the holy ghost, priesthood, endowment, temple marriage, etc), and we have to act accordingly.  That seems simple enough.


But what if we just can’t believe.  What if I understand it, but it just doesn’t ring true to me.  For me the big question is WHY?


Why is it so critical that I believe?  In my case, I have had all the ordinances, obeyed the commandments, served a mission, and honored my parents.  I love my kids and spouse and have been a faithful family man.  I serve others and live by the Golden Rule.  I tell the truth and work an honest day.  I’ve read the New Testament and Book of Mormon and I’ve been touched by their messages.  But obedience is not enough.  I have to believe as well.  But believing is really hard to do when the story is not really believable.


So why is belief so critical?  I will try to play God’s advocate.  Perhaps faith (or belief) is a skill that we need to learn to prepare us for the next life.    In my LDS upbringing, I was taught that I would be exalted and have the chance to rule worlds of my own.  Maybe faith in this life is a precursor to the confidence of leadership that I will need in the next realm.  Maybe I need to be able to believe in myself then, like I am supposed to believe in god now.


Most discussions on faith suggest that belief in God and confidence in His plan help us to cope with the challenges of life.  That idea suggests that faith is for our benefit, that it bears us up and helps us through.  I can understand that, but what if I don’t really believe in god and therefore don’t get any comfort from the idea of a higher power?  What if I don’t really want or need that comfort?  What if I get that comfort from the love of those around me?  What if I get comfort from the idea that the natural world unfolds as it should?  It seems that if God offers me a gift of faith and I choose not to take it, it shouldn’t really count against me.  I haven’t rejected God per se.  I’ve just sought my solace elsewhere. 


But that doesn’t seem good enough for God.  We cannot please God without faith.  The only other explanation is that God really doesn’t care so much what I do as what I believe.  For some reason, He requires that I think and believe a certain way.  Maybe he is insecure.  Maybe He feels like less of a God if I don’t believe, and if I can make Him feel that way, He is justified in rejecting my good works.  Maybe He can’t let me into His kingdom unless I “pledge allegiance” to His throne.  But then, all He would have to do to get my allegiance would be to make His presence known.  I have to believe in Him without any proof.


It is all very unclear.


Now, let’s look at the other side.  If we assume that there is no god, then we would not expect to find any proof of his existence (which is just what we find).  Then if I were the leader of a church, I would not want people to question the existence of god or to use reason to sort out their questions.  I would suggest to them that “blind faith” is essential, and that to question would lead to certain damnation.  This notion keeps the masses in line and me (as a religious leader) in power. 


That is very cynical, but very simple.


If a loving God really existed and wanted all of us to return to live with Him  in eternity, I would think He would do all in His (endless) power to make sure everyone found their way back.  That would start by sending a clear message and indicating a clear path.


But there is no clear message and no clear path.  In fact there is no evidence for the existence of god whatsoever. 


Let me be clear, I do not believe that all religious leaders are deceiving us.  On the contrary, I believe that most religious leaders are good people with pure intent to serve others.  I believe that as human beings, we have a need to believe in something, and most of us do.  We are emotional creatures and we are easily convinced that there is something out there to believe in.  In fact, I want to believe too. 


Conclusion:  Faith is an obscure concept that really only makes sense in the context of a godless universe.  Then it becomes understandable....but unsavory. 


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