What is Faith?



by Annalise Deal



Earlier this month Father Greg Boyle, S.J., founder of Homeboy Industries and author of Tattoos on the Heart, spoke at BC. Of all of the wise things he said, it was one of his responses during the Q&A that hit me the hardest. Someone asked him what role faith plays in the recovery and integration of gang members at Homeboy, and he responded first with another question: “what is faith?”


What is faith? For those of us who have faith, the answer seems obvious but hard to articulate. It’s more than believing in God and articulating the creeds, but of course there is no Christian faith without our one true God. In Professor Steve Pope’s class Faith, Service and Solidarity, he assigned us this very question as our reflection for the week after Fr. Boyle spoke, along with the invitation to reflect on John 9:1-12. This is the story of Jesus healing the man who had been born blind, and was begging along the road.


Upon first reading, I thought this an odd scripture to choose, because nowhere in it is the word ‘faith’ used. I was immediately struck by the difference between this healing story and others in the gospels. Often, Jesus says something to the effect of “your faith has made you well,” to the one who has been healed, but in this situation he says nothing. Yet, it is clearly implied in the text that the man did indeed have faith. Though he does not cry out and ask Jesus to heal him, he does profess what happened to him afterwards to the public, saying: “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight” (v. 11). In the formerly blind man’s account of what happened, he never mentions spiritual powers, or anything else about Jesus besides his name, but it is clear that he has faith. By faith, I mean he has a relationship with Jesus, through which he has experienced transformation. I believe that this is what “faith” is--to know something not on the basis of evidence, but rather on the basis of experience or relationship.


After two decades of being marked by baptism as a “Christian,” and three years of studying theology, it is easy to get wrapped up in the questions of what Christian faith implicates. But when I really step back and think about my faith, it is still neither the creeds, nor the work of the councils, nor the logical arguments I have read that convince me that Jesus is indeed the Son of God. Rather, it is the experiences of receiving grace, healing, and the relationship of overwhelming, agapic love.


Investigation into doctrine has absolutely been helpful to me in articulating and stretching my ideas of faith, but it has been helpful because it helps to name and explain an experience which I already know, which is the experience of Love. Herbert McCabe says “The whole of our faith is the belief that God loves us; I mean there isn’t anything else.” I would amend this argument only to say the “knowledge” that God loves us. There is nothing impressive or profound about believing something you have experienced was real. The blind man in John 9 is certain of the facts of the matter--that a man named Jesus healed him--because he was there for it. Thus I would claim that to have faith at the most basic level is to know this experience or relationship of love, and because of that to feel the implied certainty that God is real, inasmuch as our experience is happening in reality.

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