A New Definition of Faith

In our quest for a working definition of faith, we’ve looked at the origins, the effects, and the qualification of faith. We’ve looked at faith and its relationship to religion, culture, and technology. We’ve looked at faith as it relates to outcome. We’ve looked at the end products of faith, the stages of faith, and the growth of faith. Recently we’ve looked at the teachings of Jesus about faith from stories in the Gospels.

We have, I believe, concluded that contrary to popular and really almost universal belief, faith is not a thing. It is not a currency. It is not an entity that can be spent when you’re in trouble. We wish that’s what faith was. We even act as if that’s what faith is, but our experience tells us that it is not—at least, not most of the time. In some ways, it is a relief. It was a relief for me to know that my dear brother’s healing was not dependent upon my faith, weak or strong, not dependent upon the effectiveness of my prayers, or the faith of those who came to his anointing; that it was not dependent upon my connection to God.

Two stories I studied this week brought a fresh perspective about faith to my mind. They helped bring me to a new definition of faith that I’d like to propose, humbly and tentatively, in anticipation of your thoughtful reaction. We’ve decided that faith is not a thing. I believe it is a state of being. It is not some “thing” but is what and who we are. More specifically, it is simply the state of seeing things as God sees them. Not completely, of course—we’re not God. But faith, I’m proposing, is the lens through which we begin to see things as God sees them.

The first story I studied is about an epileptic boy. Jesus has been transfigured on the mountain and he comes down and he finds that there the disciples are trying to heal the boy:

 And when they came back to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them, and some scribes arguing with them. Immediately, when the entire crowd saw Him, they were amazed and began running up to greet Him. And He asked them, “What are you disputing with them?” And one person from the crowd answered Him, “Teacher, I brought You my son, because he has a spirit that makes him unable to speak; and whenever it seizes him, it slams him to the ground, and he foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth and becomes stiff. And I told Your disciples so that they would cast it out, but they could not do it.” And He answered them and said, “O unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him to Me!” And they brought the boy to Him. When he saw Him, the spirit immediately threw him into convulsions, and falling to the ground, he began rolling around and foaming at the mouth. And He asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. It has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to kill him. But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” But Jesus said to him, “‘If You can?’ All things are possible for the one who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:14-24)

I believe, Help my unbelief. I have faith. Give me more faith, I have trust. Help me to trust more. All of these are different translations, but might be seen as “Help me to see things the way God sees them.” I see them partially, I see them incompletely This is the condition of fallen Man. We see by faith partially, we see through a glass darkly, help us to see more clearly. My spiritual eyes want to see as God sees, but my simple condition limits my spiritual vision. That is what faith does, it makes us see things more clearly. My spiritual sight is impeded. Give me the ability to see as you see. I believe, Help my unbelief.

What does it mean to see things as God sees them? The story of Lazarus and his resurrection may shed some light:

Now a man was sick: Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. And it was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. So the sisters sent word to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” But when Jesus heard this, He said, “This sickness is not meant for death, but is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” (Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister, and Lazarus.) So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was. Then after this He said to the disciples, “Let’s go to Judea again.” The disciples said to Him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone You, and yet You are going there again?” Jesus replied, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks during the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks during the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” This He said, and after this He said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going so that I may awaken him from sleep.” The disciples then said to Him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will come out of it.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about actual sleep. So Jesus then said to them plainly, “Lazarus died, and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let’s go to him.”  Therefore Thomas, who was called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let’s also go, so that we may die with Him!” So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about fifteen stadia away; and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them about their brother. So then Martha, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him, but Mary stayed in the house.  Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise from the dead.” Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; the one who believes in Me will live, even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have come to believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, and He who comes into the world.” (John 11:1-27)

Jesus then goes on to awake Lazarus from the dead. Here we see the contrasts between how humankind sees things and how God sees things—their different views of time, of life and death, and of the significance and condition of health. Human nature looks at cause and effect. God sees opportunity in the stories. They glorify God and celebrate grace and the recovery of life. They view the same circumstances through different lenses. They are different ways of seeing things.

Faith is the lens through which we see we see things as God sees them. How does God see time, for example? You can see here that Jesus has no interest in time:

But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. (2 Peter 3:8)

Can we see time as God sees time? How does God see life?

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came so that they would have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)

How does he see death? In John 11 (quoted above) he sees it as a sleep waiting for the end of life, as a restoration of life. And how does God see illness? God sees sickness as a condition of fallen man, God sees the need to heal the soul with forgiveness and grace:

For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? (Matthew 9:5)

The question is; Through the lens of faith, can we see these things—time, and life and illness and disease—as God sees them? Is that a possibility?

In like manner, God sees poverty as a condition of our sinful world, something that is with us always:

For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good to them; but you do not always have Me. (Mark 14:7)

He sees in poverty of spirit a possibility of possession of the kingdom of heaven, and he sees riches as a responsibility:

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more. (Luke 12:48)

The lens of faith allows us to see merit in turning the other cheek, going the second mile, going to the back of the line, giving the extra dollar, loving our enemies, doing good to those who do us ill. This is faith: Seeing things as God sees them, even partially, even poorly. I see by degree; help me to see more clearly. Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.

Jesus expanded on this idea when he told the disciples a number of different parables:

 And the disciples came up and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” And Jesus answered them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. And in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, ‘You shall keep on listening, but shall not understand; And you shall keep on looking, but shall not perceive; For the heart of this people has become dull, With their ears they scarcely hear, And they have closed their eyes, Otherwise they might see with their eyes, Hear with their ears, Understand with their heart, and return, And I would heal them.’  But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. (Matthew 13:10-17)

One thing is clear: Seeing things as God sees them does not bring you peace or take away the pain and the trials of life—at least, not peace as we think of peace. We wish for it—we wish for a life free from sorrow and pain and distress, but Jesus essentially said: “I have given you a lens through which you can see things by faith. And seeing them in this light might give you a certain kind of peace.” But God’s peace is not the same as our peace. It is genuine, everlasting peace.

Jesus also said:

These things I have spoken to you so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Peace I leave you, My peace I give you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, nor fearful. (John 14:27)

This is what faith is. This is what faith does. It allows us to see life. It allows us to see people as God sees them. It allows us to embrace and understand life from God’s perspective—not completely, of course, not comprehensively, not even certainly, but partially, incompletely, and by degree. Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief. This was the task that faced Jesus in helping his disciples to understand his mission and his message. They like us were looking for outcome faith, which is currency. He wanted them and us to see things as God sees them, by living a life of faith.

In the story of Peter, Jesus talks about his tribulation and his upcoming sacrifice. Peter protests and says, “No, God, this will never happen to you.” But soon after Jesus would turn to Peter and say:

“Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s purposes, but men’s.” (Matthew 16:23)

He was saying, in effect: “I must obey God, but you’re trying to stop me. Your thoughts do not come from me, instead, you’re thinking in the way men think. You should be thinking like God thinks.”

Seeing things as God sees them is what I propose to define as faith.

What do you see when you see trial and tribulation, disease and decay, and death? Do you see things as God sees them? Or do you see them as we see them? In the book of Romans, Paul says “The just shall live by their faith.” In other words, the just shall live with a lens to see things as God sees them. Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief. What are your thoughts about this definition of faith? Can we improve it?

Donald: I appreciate this fresh perspective on faith, but I’m not sure that seeing things as God sees them is even possible. We seem to acknowledge that when we pray “Thy will be done.” So it’s not about understanding what his will is and not even understanding how he sees it. It’s about acknowledging and accepting that it’s his will. So I’m not sure I can take this huge step of trying to see how God sees things. That’s a stretch, for me.

C-J: I think it’s the expectation God has. He has given us that. If we can remember that we are spirits—spirit beings having a human experience—the expectation is that we will “Turn on the light!” I absolutely think that’s his expectation, not just for his disciples in that time and in these stories but for all of us to have the fullness to walk completely in that energy. I really believe that. I seek that all the time and not just say, “Whatever you want, God.”

For example: A woman friend gave me an herb used in South America as a psychedelic for spiritual experiences. It really messed with my brain. For three months, I hallucinated. I was very much aware of the concrete world, but my brain was doing all kinds of stuff. So I called another friend of mine in the church I’d walked away from, and said, “I need deliverance.”

She introduced me to a pastor who had a ministry in deliverance. He says to me: “Do you believe?” And I’m, like, “I’m here—work your magic, or whatever. Yeah, I believe.” But I’d walked away from God for a long time. I was doing my own thing, trying to find out what spiritual really meant. The pastor laid hands on me and prayed. And I’ve never hallucinated since that day. It was as though I was transported back to “Oh, I get it!” and I’ve walked with God since then… not because I was healed so much as because the light went on.

I understood it’s not a list of To Do’s whose completion will get you the keys to the kingdom, or even this relationship of prayer and community. It goes far beyond that. If it were just a matter of obedience and acceptance and sacrifice, the Jews were already doing it. They did what the law required of them, they prayed, the priests went in on the Day of Atonement. But I think the whole purpose of Christ is that we are joint heirs every day to the fullness. Jesus said: “Greater things than these shall you do, that God might be glorified.”

So that’s my expectation. It isn’t like, “I’ll give it to you, but not to you.” It’s a promise. You have it within you, being created as you are. I don’t know if animals can have that kind of experience. But I was afraid I was going to lose my mind again—I just expected that to happen, like when you take an aspirin for a headache but you know you’re going to get another headache anyway. I believed the lie that whatever had happened in my head couldn’t be fixed.

I had a roommate. She said: “Connie, you need the baptism of the Holy Spirit.” And I’m like, “Look, I don’t want anything to do with that again. I’ll just be a good Christian. I’ll just do what you tell me to do.” But I finally I went to the pastor and said, “I need help.” And his wife laid hands on me and prayed. We were in a room. It was July 1. It was a hot summer day. They had light filtering drapes from ceiling to floor. So it looked like dusk in there. And when they prayed, I felt like I had put my hand inside a light socket and gotten zinged by 110 volts.

I opened my eyes and I was just crying and crying. That room was filled with gold and white light. My brain had this huge dump of oxytocin. I never felt so clear headed, such a pure love, in my entire life. That experience for me is what God promises us, way beyond doing what is tangible—being good people, service to others, obeying the laws. Rather, I think he wants us to be in complete fellowship with the divine. And that transcends all those parables, those stories. And I think that if we seek it, we too shall stand before a burning bush, not literally but spiritually humbled. We’ve all had experiences where we pray and we can’t stop crying. We don’t even know why we’re crying. But something is changing us inside.

So that’s what I believe. It’s dialing in. It’s about eyeglasses and dialing in the right formula so that we can see clearly, about getting our eyes to focus properly. In physics, time is folded in on itself with gravitational pull, so we experience those things differently on any given day, or even within a day. So for me, I know when I’m at warp speed and I know when I’m burdened. I know, that really sounds “out there” but when I’m really in a bad place, that experience—or the memory of that experience—carries me. I’ve never had it happen to me after that.

Jay: I think that what you’ve been talking about relates to our earlier discussion concluding that faith is related to the acknowledgement of God, that God exists, that God is in control. You have gone a step further to suggest that the way God acts, or does, or is is opposite to what we expect. Without faith of this acknowledgement that he’s in control, those opposite results cause a lot of dissonance, discouragement, and distrust. Faith helps to ease or remove that dissonance.

Human beings have a very specific definition of what love is, what love acts like, and what love should do. But what we think is poverty is not necessarily what God thinks is poverty. When you look closely at some of these Bible texts, it really flips our definitions around, especially in the Beatitudes. There’s a definite flipping around of characteristics we think are admirable but they are not. If we boil our definition down to “God is love, God is goodness” the problem is we could be a little bit off, or a lot off, on what love and goodness is.

That’s why some Bible stories drive us crazy. It doesn’t make sense to me that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that the plagues could continue, or that Jesus would have waited for Lazarus to die when he could just have gone and healed him, saving a deal of unnecessary pain and mourning. Yet Jesus is pretty specific that there’s a purpose behind it; that it is God’s will that needs to be accomplished. But to let bad things happen to the Pharaoh and Lazarus seems so contrary to love and goodness. And yet it does happen and it is for God’s will. It is to show who God is, it seems.

When we apply our definitions of love and goodness and those kinds of things, I think what faith helps us do is acknowledge that even those are imperfect and there are going to be times when we think that the things happening to us could not possibly be happening out of love, or goodness, or the will of God. But faith has to be in play for us to know that it is.

Kiran: I like this new definition of faith. It makes sense to me, because it explains relationships, the journey, prayer, all these things. The Sermon on the Mount makes sense because Jesus is showing people the way God sees the world. Now, we respond to evil and badness with more evil and more badness. But Jesus was telling them in the Sermon on the Mount: “You should respond to evil with goodness. If someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn your left cheek to them.” It doesn’t make sense, it is not common sense, to do that. But if you look at the world through the lens of God, the way he sees it, then it makes sense.

Why would God give sunlight and rain and all of these things to good people and bad people alike? Why can’t he just destroy the bad people? Because if you look at them the way God sees them, it makes sense. Look at the way Jesus behaved with the people that were abusing and killing him: He loved them, and he asked the Father to forgive them, which makes sense now.

Paul’s explanation that we see only partially (“darkly”) even though we have a lens (a “glass”), means that we can’t clearly see. It’s a lens that needs refinement. Or it was purposefully masked in such a way that we can’t clearly see at this time, and that’s probably the result of the fallen nature of human beings. But we should not stop looking through this lens. This explains why good people end up having really terrible things happen to them. You can look through the lens of God and find peace.

Prayer fits into this whole thing because prayer can help me to borrow this lens from God and look through it. Otherwise, probably I wouldn’t be able to have this understanding to look at the world differently and find peace. When we look at things without the lens, all it does is bring chaos into our hearts, makes us hate other people and then ruins our minds. So this makes more sense to me than anything else.

Reinhard: I think obedience is a barometer of our faith in God. When we obey God, I think he can tell everything about our faith. The Old Testament centers on the Israelites, the chosen people, Up to the captivity in Babylon, they were largely disobedient, especially Jeremiah and Isiah, who talked about their disobedience. They were faithless. They were rebellious to God. Their faith was very superficial. They worshiped God out of fear. It was not something they really grasped in their hearts.

Fast forward to Jesus’ times: From idol worship, the Israelites had progressed to legalese. The Pharisees tried imposed the burden of law on the people but did not really follow it themselves. That’s why Jesus rebuked them. They still did not have the faith that God wanted of them. When they asked what was the greatest commandment, Jesus said to love God and love their fellow men. To me, that’s what faith is about. When we love God, when we surrender to God, that’s when faith grows.

The more we love God, the more we have faith in him, then other things like obedience and loving our neighbor will take care of themselves. In this way, the law is fulfilled through pure and genuine faith.

Kiran: We talked about making a journey last week. So this makes sense, because as a father, or as a heavenly Father, God is in this relationship, on a journey with us. If you think about the patriarchs, he led them across the decades and through the generations, but all he was trying to do was to get them to see the things in this world and relate to the things in this world the same way he did. That fits into our new definition as well.

David: I would heartily endorse what Reinhard said. I think he is absolutely spot on. I also think that when I heard C-J say she hoped her story was not too “out there,” what I actually heard her saying was very much “in there” in the sense that seeing things through the eyes of God means seeing or hearing things through the inner voice, the Holy Spirit, the eternity set within the heart.

It seems to me C-J was blessed to have had the experience of being in direct contact with the Holy Spirit inside her. What a difference it has made to her life! But that experience doesn’t come to many people, it seems. Last week, Don told us again the seemingly sad story of Elizabeth, his religious patient who thought she was faithful but died in what was described as spiritual and physical agony. Kiran mentioned the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes: Where was the faith in the poor in spirit, and so on? Elizabeth was as poor in spirit as could be, so where was her faith then, and why should we care?

I have to believe that at the very end of Elizabeth’s life, when she was in the process of meeting God, she would have seen things clearly—not darkly—through his eyes and she would have had perfect faith. To me, that’s the promise: That at some point in life we will have that experience of seeing things through the eyes of God. Perhaps for most of us it will be right at the very end of life, as it was with Elizabeth.

It would be wonderful if we could all have C-J’s direct experience with God early in life. I’ve had a spiritual experience and like her, I think of it from time to time and it renews my faith. But if I hadn’t had that experience, how different would things be? I might or might not be as good a person in life and if not that would be a shame for the creation; but at the end of the day, I still think I would get to hear that voice eventually—we all will.

Donald: When one doesn’t actually see clearly, I’m not sure one knows it. At some extreme point, certainly they would know, but not at less extreme points. People who have had cataracts know that when they’re removed, all of a sudden their world is so different. I’m not sure they really knew that. prior to having the cataracts removed. They had the cataracts removed because some doctors said, “It’s time to have the cataracts out.”

For years I picked up people’s cameras and used them. There’s a dial on the optics of the back of a camera. I looked through these cameras, and I could not believe they were using them in this way. It was far out of whack. But their owners didn’t know that. Things are either sharp or not sharp. Getting close to sharp doesn’t cut it.

I just need to have trust. I need to see the world as God expects me to see it, and to behave in such a way that God expects me to behave. I do have to accept. And that to me is a matter of faith. You can pray for six months but will eventually give up and go somewhere else. We all have two or three things that we habitually pray for—family, for instance.

I remarked at a family gathering recently that I don’t think we can change God’s behavior by praying. A dear in law looked at me as if I had said something horrible, so I had to rephrase it and water it down for her. It seems we live in a world where we have to resort to “spin.” So instead of turning to God, we just “pivot” a little bit!

Carolyn: When it comes to faith and belief and even the words we use in daily prayer, and when we speak of the loving our fellow man, the words that always come to my mind are that we must become as little children and see things through their eyes. At different stages of a child, you see different eyes, and you don’t want to tell them what to see. But when they all of a sudden experience something, and see things for themselves without its being pointed out to them what they should be seeing, we want them to learn from that experience. But it just happens. I think God unveils so much, if we take the time. For me, seeing through the eyes of God is being childlike in nature.

C-J: Imagine spirit to be like music. I had a friend who played the French horn. We were talking about sound. Brilliant woman. She said to me, “Connie, music is the absence of sound—you realize that the music is always there, the sound is always there, but when there’s a pause between one note and the next, that’s when you’re aware that something’s missing.” And if we apply that to the spirit dimension, to the things we cannot see with our naked eye, as Carolyn just described. God put a natural curiosity in us, I believe.

I understand there’s an arc in terms of those who are limited in the way their brains think. When I worked in addiction I saw people who had been doing a lot of drugs for a long time. They just weren’t right. They had lost everything. They couldn’t cope. They were anxious. They wanted their drug. They wanted out. But once they got clear and got healthy, had good rest, had counseling, had good food, you could see their skin change, their eyes grew brighter, their brains thinking again.

I think the unbeliever, having sin present in their lives, is in a similar position. They’re sick and they don’t know why. But if they immerse themselves in this concept of faith and this text that we call the Bible, and spend time with it, they will ask: “What is that music? What is that tone? I hear it, but it’s too far away. Can I dial it up?”

I think prayer has to transform me first before I go to read the word; then I will really know I understand it. That’s part of the practice of praying before we open our Bibles, praying before we come together. We play music to clear our heads of the clutter of life. It doesn’t have to be spiritual music. There’s a lot of really good music that makes me feel very ethereal.

Jay: I’m struggling a little bit with this new definition. I know you’re not proposing that we could see things through God’s eyes, see as God sees, but I think we’re so very far from that. Is it more important to acknowledge that we can’t see through God’s eyes or is it more important to try to see—no matter how dimly—as God sees? It sounds Daoist to say we should not try, that the Way is the Way, it is what it is. And if I can believe that “it” is goodness and love and grace and forgiveness, that’s a pretty good place to be.

The problem is, our definition—I think—is really messed up. I think we’ve skewed love and grace and goodness to a point where—as with the story of Lazarus—we say: “It doesn’t make sense that God’s purpose is for him to die. It just doesn’t make sense. It does not compute.” In my mind, the only reason it doesn’t compute is because I don’t understand what death and mourning and sadness and happiness and goodness and love really are.

I’m not saying that we’re way off or that our feelings aren’t genuine. But we are very quick, just because something doesn’t feel right, to say that it is wrong. Human beings have skewed the sight of God, the will of God; and faith helps us to acknowledge that fact and to be cautious. I need to be prayerful. I need to look as a little child looks on things. We need to take the perspective of the kingdom of God outlined for us in Matthew—a place that seems to be inimical to our way of functioning—in order to know what we’re doing and how we do it.

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