Understanding Faith

 

 

UNDERSTANDING FAITH 

Father Luke A. Veronis

“I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, `Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

These words from today’s Gospel reading challenge us to reflect on the meaning of faith. What is “faith as small as a mustard seed?” A mustard seed is a tiny seed no more than 1 or 2 mm, less than a 1/8 of an inch. Yet, when planted this tiny seed produces a bush that can be 20x30 feet tall.

“Faith as small as a mustard seed.” Let’s begin by simply reflecting on faith itself. What is faith? It’s such a fundamental word and concept in our lives as Christians and yet, do we fully understand what faith means and the implications faith can have in our lives?

Webster’s dictionary defines faith as “complete trust or confidence in something or someone.” Saint Paul describes faith in a similar manner - “an assurance of things hoped for and a conviction of things unseen.” (Heb 11:1) So, faith is complete trust or confidence, an assurance or conviction in something or someone even if unseen.

And yet, how many remember the Risen Christ’s dialogue with the Apostle Thomas. Ten of the disciples encounter Jesus risen from the dead, yet none of them can convince Thomas about the resurrection. “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were,” Thomas declares, “and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Yet Thomas’ doubts led him to a renewed and deeper faith when he actually meets Christ and cries out “My Lord and my God.” Jesus responds to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Yes, it is blessed to have a faith that implies a conviction of things unseen, yet that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for doubt in our journey of faith. As Metropolitan Kallistos Ware explains - “Faith and doubt are not mutually exclusive. Perhaps there are some who by God’s grace retain throughout their life the faith of a little child, enabling them to accept without question all that they have been taught. For most of those living in the West today, however, such an attitude is simply not possible. We have to make our own the cry, “Lord, I believe: help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). For very many of us this will remain our constant prayer right up to the very gates of death.

Yet doubt does not in itself signify lack of faith. It may mean the opposite—that our faith is alive and growing. For faith implies not complacency but taking risks, not shutting ourselves off from the unknown but advancing boldly to meet it. Here an Orthodox Christian may readily make his own the words of Bishop J.A.T. Robinson: “The act of faith is a constant dialogue with doubt.” As Thomas Merton rightly says, “Faith is a principle of questioning and struggle before it becomes a principle of certitude and peace.”

So let us always remember that faith is a journey of growing in our trust, in our confidence, and in our assurance of God. Along this journey, we leave plenty of room for active doubts.

A second fundamental principle of faith is to understand it not simply as some type of intellectual belief that proves the existence of God. Saint James notes, ““You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe – and tremble.” (James 2:19)

Intellectual belief in God’s existence is not enough. Faith points to something, or someone other! Kallistos Ware goes on to explain, “Faith in God is not at all the same as the kind of logical certainty that we attain in Euclidean geometry. God is not the conclusion to a process of reasoning, the solution to a mathematical problem. To believe in God is not to accept the possibility of his existence because it has been “proved” to us by some theoretical argument, but it is to put our trust in One whom we know and love. Faith is not the supposition that something might be true, but the assurance that Someone is there.”

Think about this. Faith is putting our trust in Someone whom we know and love; it’s the assurance that this Someone is there. This points us into understanding faith first and foremost as a relationship with Someone. Growing in faith implies developing an ongoing living relationship with this Person. This is why faith and love are intertwined!

It’s not enough to simply believe in God’s existence. A true, authentic faith implies loving a Person, entering into and growing in an intimate relationship with God.

This journey of faith is precisely a journey – an expedition of ongoing discovery. It’s not a static “I believe” but an ongoing revelation of love. Always remember that God is an infinite God. In believing and knowing God, we are in a relationship with an inexhaustible Mystery of Love. We never can say fully “I believe in Him. I know Him. I love Him.” because our belief in Him, our knowledge of Him, and our love for Him should constantly be changing and growing into a deeper experience of Him.

 

This is a healthy journey of faith. We shouldn’t say “Keep the Faith” but “Keep Growing in the Faith.”

Think about today’s Gospel story where Jesus criticizes his disciples as part of a “faithless and perverse generation,” a generation that lacks the faith to heal the epileptic. When they ask Jesus why they couldn’t heal the sick man, our Lord responds, “Because of your little faith.” The Apostles are not giants in their faith at this point; they don’t fully understand their relationship with God. Yet, they’re on a journey. They humbly approach Christ with hearts open to learn and grow. They believe but Christ must help their unbelief. They love their Lord yet they still must grow in their understanding of divine love.

Cultivating faith as small as a mustard seed reminds us that our faith shouldn’t remain small as a tiny seed. Instead, a seed in planted and then germinates and becomes something other. A seed changes and is transformed when planted. The seedling breaks out of a shell and grows in rich soil becoming a beautiful and large bush.

Let us strive to nurture such faith in our lives – a faith that completely trusts in the “One who is, who was, and who is to come, the Lord Almighty;” a faith that reflects an assurance and conviction in Someone even if unseen; a faith that may be in constant dialogue with doubt; yet a faith that primarily reflects a growing and ongoing relationship of love, a deep friendship that becomes a passionate love for our Lord Jesus Christ.

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