A word does not have a meaning.
I mean they do, but sometimes the meaning of a word is vague, fuzzy, or it hits many things. Linguists do not usually speak of a “definition” of a word, but of a “range of meanings.” A word is like a nebula. Sure, it is an entity, but what exactly is it? It has a lot of parts to it, a lot of colors. And when you find out more, you discover that the colors were made up by scientists and don’t reflect the reality at all, but are there to show depth and beauty. Even so, the meanings of words can be beautiful, but hard to pin down.
Like the word “bear”. “Bear” of course has two meanings, one is a large animal with pointy bits or possibly our spouse who we say is being a “bear” this morning. But the other, separate range of words, has a root source of “bearing” something on one’s shoulders, which often means something difficult and we can use it to mean that we can “bear” with someone who is being difficult, which means that we can say of our spouse that we are “bearing” with a “bear”, neither of which has to do with the literal meaning of either word “bear”. This is why words don’t have a single meaning, but a range of meanings.
The tough word we will be talking about today is “faith”. Comes from the Latin root “fides” which is a translation of the Greek word “pistis.”
For secular people, faith is spoken of a “leap”, an accepted conviction without evidence. The idea that God exists is a “leap of faith” that some hold and others do not. Jesus being raised from the dead is a “leap of faith” that Christians hold. Creationism is a “leap of faith” which stands in the face of science. And some think that the sign of being a true, saved, believer is to take a leap of faith toward Jesus without evidence.
However, this idea of a belief without evidence is only as old as 150 years when Soren Kierkegaard created existentialism, where one creates one’s own life through belief or through a personal act of will. Before then, faith goes beyond what one can see, but is still based on reality. We step on a plane, which is an act of faith that we won’t die when we go up in the air, but it is based on knowledge that planes rarely cause people to die.
So if someone holds their chair for me when I sit down, I am putting my faith in him. I am putting my faith in him because he could, right now, pull the chair out from under me and then I break a bone. Some might say that I am making a leap of faith by sitting on this chair. On the other hand, I have sat in others of these chairs and not fallen. I have experienced, let’s say, this person’s character and have evidence that he is not the type of person to pull the chair out from under me. This is the kind of evidence that the Bible talks about. Yes, we are putting our faith in an uncertain future, but it is dependent on our experiences in the past.
For many Christians, to have “faith” is to believe in one of the creeds, which comes from the Latin word “Credo” which means “I believe”. A creed is basically a laundry list of basics that “true believers” should believe. Others call creeds the “prolegomena to the gospel” or an introduction to some basic facts we need to hold before we can move ahead with the deeper aspects of the gospel. However, this was not conceived as the foundation of faith until the mid to late 300s, which is long after Bible times.
The apostle Paul and the book of Acts speak about “the faith”. This is a particular belief in Jesus, risen from the dead, king of the new kingdom of God that all Christians have. So they almost never spoke of Christians, but spoke rather of a belief system. A belief system that causes one to change one’s authority from one source– Jewish priests, for example– to another– Jesus, and the community that trusts in that authority. For many, “faith” means to follow a certain authority.
The word “faith” in Greek is pistis and the word for “I believe” is pisteuo— both are forms of the same word. Sometimes this might hold to a “belief” or a “belief system”, but in the bible that meaning of the word is rare. The Bible has a range of meanings for that word, which includes “belief”, but also “confidence” and “perseverance” and “commitment”– such as having a life-long commitment to a king, which we call “fealty” or a life-long commitment to a spouse which we call “fidelity” or a life-long commitment to a god, which we call belonging to a “faith”, all of which are English words that come from the Latin word fides which we would translate in modern English, “faith”.
But I think that if we were going to use one word that gets at the core of the significance of the Bible word pistis
, I think that word would be “trust.” The Bible already warns us that belief in facts don’t bring us one step closer to walking with God. As James says, “Even the demons believe, and the shudder.” So there is a reliable pistis
and an unreliable pistis
. Demons have knowledge of many of the same facts as we, but take a remarkably different course of action. Belief in a set of facts don’t mean much.
Nor does a commitment mean much if the object of the commitment is evil. We might consider faithfulness to our word or to our commitment to an ideal to be great, until that commitment allows us to kill people in its name. Fealty to a king is evil if that king tells you to harm innocent people. Faith in God is a detriment if our God is not a God of love.
Let’s try out this idea of “trust” in the Bible.
Abraham trusted in God and this was credited to him as righteousness. Abraham didn’t just believe a promise, but lived a life of trust in the God of love.
Jesus said, “By your faith you are healed.” This isn’t just belief in the fact that Jesus could heal, but that Jesus and God would do right by them, deliver them from their life of destruction.
Jesus said, “Trust in God, trust also in me.”
See if this makes more sense, “If you have trust as a grain of mustard seed, you can say to this mountain be cast in the sea, and it will happen.” Not belief or confidence that God CAN do such a thing, but trust that it is according to God’s loving desire and that God has the power to do this.
When it says in the bible not to doubt, it really means to set aside one’s distrust of God. We sometimes believe that God has it in for us, that God doesn’t have our best interests in mind. Like the children of the wilderness who didn’t have “faith” in God and so didn’t think that God would feed them. As if God didn’t know what they needed.
- To have trust, is to rely on God’s care for us.
- To have trust is to rely on God to guide us to live our best lives.
- To have trust is to act in God’s love, even if it is hard or asks a lot.
- To have trust is to be in a relationship for the long haul, not just an exciting moment. Trust doesn’t look for the next spiritual thrill, but walks with God regularly, even in the boring or difficult times.
- To have trust is ultimately leaning on God to be one’s security.
- Trust is knowing that God will provide even if love requires that we take chances with our provision.
- To have trust is to rely on God as deliverer from all that oppresses us.
- To have trust is to hear things we don’t like, but we will listen anyway.
- To have trust is, almost more than anything, to wait for the good that we are impatient for. To believe that God does have peace in store for us, even if we don’t see how we will obtain it.
Trust is when my family and I were praying for God to pay our utilities. We had a number of people living with us and so our utility debt was three thousand dollars. So we were praying that God would provide us with the funds. This was a faithful prayer because we had dedicated our house and our lives to taking in the poor. And it was a desperate prayer because we knew that if we didn’t pay our water bill, especially, they would call Family Services on us because we were “endangering” our children. So we prayed for God to pay our utility bills.
That morning at 1am Diane woke me up. She said, “I’m sorry to have to wake you up, but the car is totalled.” I am very groggy at 1am so it took me a while to register. I went out our door and instead of our car there was broken glass and a lot of flashing lights. It turns out a drunk driver in a large truck hit our car on the street, pushed our vehicle two houses down into the neighbor’s yard. The police was concerned because brown fluid was dripping from our ceiling. That was the gravy we had placed there left over from the meal that night. Yep, it was totaled.
In about a month, we received a check from an insurance company. It was for six thousand dollars. Enough for us to purchase a used minivan for three thousand and to pay our utility bills.
In my experience, trust is messy. Trust is chancy and causes us to take chances. But trust in God means: if you follow the path of love, everything will work out in the end. Even if in a weird way.