The personal dimension of faith

I present here a section of my book I believe because it is not absurd that was published by Eikon.

The Christian faith begins with the formula „we believe” or „I believe”, followed by a series of statements which the believers are invited to accept as fundamental guidelines for their lives. But this personal adherence to a set of principles or general truths must have something to do with the nature of humanity and reality. It concerns the human being’s ability to relate to all that exists and to shape an experience of life appropriate to the complexity of reality. Christian spirituality regards faith as such a constitutive capacity of the human being, whose defining role is her coherent placement in the world. Christianity also holds that we have all been endowed by the creator with this faculty and that we use it to a greater or lesser extent, no matter how seriously we assume its existence and how much we are willing to use its possibilities of expression. In this section, we will focus on faith as a constitutive dimension of the human being and try to capture some of its characteristics.

1. A fundamental human capacity

To begin with, we can admit that the discussion of faith is similar to that of any human capacity, such as, for example, reason or sight. Christianity regards faith as a human faculty that a person uses to connect to reality and to express herself. Faith opens up the horizon of human existence, it puts people in touch with it as the senses do. Its specificity is that it calls the human being to a certain level of reality to which we do not otherwise have access. In the case of faith, this horizon is represented by what is generically called the absolute ultimate reality, divinity, the transcendent, God, etc. It is the highest and most important reality to which the human being relates and corresponds to her inclination to find a centre of gravity, to relate to a point of reference which plays a role of identity, involving all areas of existence: moral, intellectual, aesthetic, social, etc. This referent can be objective or subjective and can be defined in terms of religious or philosophical knowledge, where names such as God, being, essence, truth are associated with it, or in terms of common knowledge, when it is represented by a particular idea, power, reputation, wealth, etc.

Faith is a form of knowledge, understood in its primary sense of participation in reality, in truth. But it should not be confused with reason or with other human capacities that help us perceive reality. It is a constitutive dimension of the human being, which enables us to relate to what is considered to be ultimate reality and which we cannot perceive with the other faculties. Faith adds its specific dimension to the way humans relate to the complexity of reality. It enables each person to find a coherent and balanced place in the world and provides the basis for a certain way of self-expression or an appropriate way of life. Openness to the absolute or to a higher plane of existence can be tempered and inhibited, and faith can be a poorly used potentiality, as can be the case with any faculty specific to the human being. At stake is individual freedom and the context in which we live our life, opportunities and ways of putting faith to work. However, the human tendency towards what we consider to be full or absolute reality, sometimes towards metaphysics and the search for the ultimate meaning of things, at other times towards something more concrete or even a fiction, is something written into human nature. The reference to God or to an instance that is viewed as a landmark and founding instance is a constant in human experience throughout the ages. The great thinkers of humanity throughout history have spoken of this openness, from St Augustine, who said that there is a void in us that can only be filled by God, to the French writer Voltaire, who said that if God did not exist, he would have to be invented.

Faith connects the human beings to a register of reality to which they do not have access with their other faculties. It responds to the human need to relate to God, to realise representations of the divine or the absolute, of ideals or types of existence that are beyond the sensible and mundane. With such an approach we are not far from the biblical definition of faith. According to the famous passage in Hebrews 11:1, faith is the human capacity that connects one to things to come and to things not seen; it is the substance of things hoped for, a certainty about things not seen. For the biblical author, faith is similar to seeing, hearing or thinking. It is a capacity of human beings whereby they participate in a specific level of existence: the unseen, not subject to the senses (intelligible), ot the future, that which has not yet come into being. It makes possible the relationship with the transcendent, with that which is beyond created and tangible beings, i.e. with God.

The contemporary reader might object that faith is only spoken of in religion and that we are dealing with a tool that humans have invented in order to be able to relate to things they do not sufficiently understand and cannot control, such as natural phenomena, or to those of the future, which they cannot foresee. And, as science has developed, for some people religion and faith remain just unimportant cultural artefacts that will gradually disappear. It is true that we must keep the discussion of faith within the realm of religious or philosophical knowledge, areas that accept the transcendent and the possibility of a human relationship to a reality beyond the sensible. But it should also be pointed out that there are thinkers in all fields of knowledge who stress that humankind cannot give up either religious knowledge or the idea that people always use faith, including for purposes other than religious ones. Faith animates the human being in making choices, in important decisions and options that define the understanding of the world and of life, the vision of the nature of reality and the purpose of existence. Faith is put to work by people all the time for different purposes. It functions as an opening to various realities that we either consider universally true and we accept without making an effort to prove them (such as good and evil), or to aspects that we do not understand and cannot explain, but which we accept as part of reality and relate to as such.

From a Christian perspective, the discussion about faith as a constitutive capacity of humanity can become complicated in the context of considering the situation of the fall, the breaking of the fellowship with God and all the consequences that follow from this. Assuming that sin did not destroy human beings and their faculties (the potential which is generically called the “image of God”), but only affected their way of life, the use and coordination of their capacities, we can speak of the manifestation of faith in various forms after the fall, as we can observe in human society throughout history. The dynamics of faith bear the same coordinates specific to any human capacity: it can be cultivated and developed or ignored and occasionally accessed; it can evolve or regress; it can be used in the context of a way of life and in relation to other capacities; it can undergo a conscious process of evaluation, formation, and development, etc.

In Christian spirituality, faith is about more than an abstract relationship between humman beings and the absolute. It is the basis of a relationship between the human and the divine person, the support for a personal „I-Thou” connection, i.e. a reciprocal relationship based on love and freedom between the two beings involved. Faith is precisely the human capacity to open oneself to God as a personal reality, the faculty by which humans accept a relational existence transcendent to their being. So, faith is the capacity of the human person to engage in a kind of experience that accounts for the existence and presence of a personal God. Furthermore, Christianity invites us to believe in a God who became human, who had a human experience alongside us. This specificity of Christian spirituality also becomes the touchstone for human faith. It seems much simpler to accept the existence of an absolute, transcendent being as the source of the world and of humanity, but things become more complicated when we have to accept that a particular man is also God and that he came into the world to achieve certain things which are fundamental to the life and destiny of humanity.

2. Characteristics of faith

Based on the working definition proposed above, we now consider some of the characteristics of faith. In support of this approach, we refer to aspects highlighted by both the Church Fathers and modern authors such as Søren Kierkegaard (in his Philosophical Fragments or in Practice in Christianity), Blaise Pascal (Pensées), Paul Tillich (Dynamics of Faith) and Karl Barth (Dogmatics in Outline). The theme of faith has been constantly discussed in theological works, but it has also been touched upon in texts of philosophical reflection. Frequently, the analysis of the subject has brought to the fore the relationship between faith and reason as a problem for which various solutions have been proposed over time. We touch on this subject only tangentially insofar as certain more important characteristics of faith require reference to the human capacity to think and form rational representations of reality.

The integrating function

When we speak of the integrative function of faith, we have in mind both reality as a whole and the human person as a harmoniously functioning whole, even though human  beings have many capacities and are in themselves complex beings. The Christian worldview recognises that what we call real is not only what can be seen and observed empirically, but it also includes an unseen register, a level of existence that escapes sensitive approach. This is where the being of God is placed, which can only be perceived and known by humans with the help of faith, through a particular type of opening, orientation and articulation of their whole being. As Paul Tillich remarks, this concrete way of mobilizing the whole of human being towards the divine being is achieved by faith (for Tillich, faith is man’s state of being ultimately concerned with something specific, a total act of the person that makes him move towards a finite reality or an infinite one). Faith verticalises our whole person and therefore makes the greatest demands on all our other faculties. Through faith, human persons, as complex wholes, connect to reality in all its complexity, i.e. includes God and what is created by him, and, in this process, engage all their capacities, their whole being.

The unity and complexity of reality is matched at the human level by faith. It plays the role of opening reality to the maximum and of including here the register of being and existence that does not fall within the sphere of sensory perception. We agree with Paul Tillich that the exercise of faith exerts a force of articulation of all personal capacities and manifests the intention to relate them to the totality of reality, to give cohesion to the experience of the person who tries to come to terms with its complexity. Faith acquires a central position at the level of the person and plays this role of calibrating the being, of giving balance and coherence to its placement in the world.

This specificity of faith has been observed and even exploited many times throughout history. Social life is built on the individual’s inclination to base their existence on an appeal to a landmark and to mobilise their entire being around a centre. These coordinates have frequently been focused on projects with a political or religious content and have taken extreme forms such as totalitarian projects or fanaticisms that gather followers around an ideal. Faith has the power to give people direction, to commit them to certain goals that would otherwise seem crazy. Not infrequently, dictatorial political systems have been likened to a religion, because they have used faith and the patterns of a religious approach: creeds, rites, symbols and ideals. The appeal to these instruments meant the use of faith and, through it, the mobilisation of the whole individuality which becomes ready for action.

In its manifestation, faith succeeds in mobilising all human faculties and giving coherence to a particular way of life. Firstly, faith establishes a relationship with reason based on theneed of human beings for a rational understanding of their relationship with reality and for explanations of the nature of reality. As a result, reason brings meaning to the impetus of faith and leads to conceptual representations of God and of the place and role of humans in the universe. This gives rise to the general truths and principles that Christian spirituality proposes, as conceptually formulated knowledge about God and the world, and which believers take as fundamental benchmarks for their own lives. These are called creeds or dogmas, the truths on which personal and community life is built.

Secondly, faith engages intensely human personal feelings and contributes to representations at this level. Through the manifestation of faith, an affective, subjective content is built up which plays the role of a strong relational bond. Faithfulness in the relationship with the divine is ensured through this type of mobilisation and directing of feelings and inner experiences towards God. But faith is not a particular set of emotions or an excitable area of the being that resonates with certain personal and collective expectations or needs. It can stimulate to the maximum the psychohological dimension and facilitate the emergence of powerful feelings that can dominate a person’s entire behaviour. Faith develops a passion, a human drive towards divinity. For this reason, appeals to faith can easily take the form of manipulating and enlisting people in projects that they later find unacceptable. History provides enough examples of this, both in the area of religious experience and in social and political life.

Finally, faith engenders the personal will that always provides the impetus and strength for action, the dedication to a cause or certain ideals. Faith can lead to the shaping of a way of life or a pattern of behaviour, requiring the person to commit to action, to take decisions and to assume the consequences. Believers use this capacity to shape the personal and community experience they desire, to develop a way of life that flows from a relationship with God. The expression of faith takes the form of a commitment, participation in a mission, the assumption of responsibilities and goals for which people are willing to pay a price.

If we look at the biblical models of people faithful to God, we can easily identify this characteristic of faith as the motor of their whole being and their whole life, as the instrument that directs experience and engages it with all its resources. If the people of the Bible are great, they are so because they have depended intensely on faith, that is to say, they have had a mobilizing mechanism that has given substance to a life experience concentrated to the maximum. Likewise, if we look at the great people of history, they are great because they used their faith, even if sometimes their goals and the realities they aimed for did not bring them fulfillment or what they really hoped for, and their horizon did not necessarily include God and eternal life.

The unconditional character

A second characteristic of faith has been emphasised in abundance, along with other thinkers, by the philosopher and theologian Søren Kierkegaard in many of his works. This is the unconditional character of faith, i.e. the requirement that it should be an exercise in focusing on its subject, in centring itself in it. From a Christian perspective, Karl Barth goes further and adds the exclusive character of faith, i.e. to offer this openness to one God and to remain dedicated to him forever. In terms of the reality to which it relates, to God, faith presupposes a kind of totality, a commitment without limits, without conditions. This means an abandonment of the whole being into God’s hands, a commitment that assumes dependence and loyalty to the divine person. In Christian spirituality, this requirement of faith admits an important ontological basis that delimits the relationship between the creator and the created being. Faith, as a capacity to enter a relationship with God, requires this willingness to accept our status as a dependent being in an asymmetrical relationship with the one who is the source of life and movement. By faith we understand and accept that the world was created by God (Heb. 11:3) and that its existence presupposes a permanent relationship with the source of life.

This total dedication to God is accepted on a personal level because it promises a balance of being, in accordance with the need for adequacy to reality, but also a satisfaction that responds to the human person’s desire for fulfilment. As various authors, from biblical authors and theologians to philosophers and creators of art, have always reiterated, we are made by God, and we cannot live without him. Faith ensures our total commitment to God and represents our unconditional relationship with him as the source and reference point of our existence. According to Christian spirituality, the goal of our relationship with God is the attainment of human perfection. Church Fathers have frequently used the phrase human deification to describe this goal of human existence, which accepts to respond to the divine invitation to have eternal life. Biblical revelation emphasises that humans are aware that their fulfilment can only be brought about by God, as the being who bears the attributes of the absolute or perfection. Human persons are animated by such an ideal and may be ready to accept its coordinates, even if they are free to carve out a destiny of their own. At this point we can intuit something of what Christianity calls the human fall, the state of sin. The requirement of faith for us to assume a state of dependence and obedience is the way in which this faculty helps us to coherently assume our normal place and position in reality. Faith thus becomes the organ with which we coherently assume our own constitution and relationship with the world and with God. It is precisely the invalidation of this status, as an exercise of the freedom of the created being, that represents the turning point that has led to the fracturing of the humanity’s relationship with God.

If we understand faith as a faculty that presupposes a totally unconditional relationship with ultimate reality, then we can admit that it also presupposes a potential failure to exercise it. On the one hand, if humans put their faith in something or someone that cannot bring them the balance and full fulfilment they seek, they end up in failure, disappointment and emptiness. On the other hand, if they are unable to commit themselves to such a relationship to the end, by renouncing or abandoning the normal relationship with God, they end up with a complete failure of their own existence and with the imbalances we know from the history of culture and civilisation. It should also be pointed out that the exercise of faith always brings a series of possible downfalls even for the most consistent believers. In biblical history, an example that corresponds to this situation is the various forms of fine idolatry to which Christians are exposed, beyond the abrupt deviations of commitment to false deities or false conceptions of God. When Scripture condemns idols, it does not do so on the basis of morality. God’s concern for humanity is related to the fact that the idol offers nothing; it is a construct of transient value or an illusion (1Cor. 8:4). The idol is a substitute for ultimate reality and it arises as a result of its instrumentalisation and objectification. The biblical rhetoric on idols and idolatry is clear in this respect: humans make idols because they pursue a certain interest in it (Is. 44:10), be it a very high one. In the context of idolatry, faith undergoes a mutation from God as the existential center to a substitute that becomes a source of fulfillment of a particular and selfish need. The result of this approach is always disappointing because the satisfaction it offers is fleeting and inconsistent. The same is true of the non-religious idols that humans use as engines for their own experience: fame, money, wealth, work, a particular ideology, etc. The total commitment of human beings to realities of this kind cannot ensure their fulfilment to the extent expected and at the level they desire, but only offers them volatile results, transient satisfaction. Finally, there is also the situation of the simulacrum of faith, when humans commit themselves to the divinity only formally or within certain limits, under unilaterally assumed conditions. There is the fear that abandoning oneself to God represents a loss of freedom, a diminution of being or depersonalisation. It is therefore most acceptable to engage with God within limits that we can assess with some regularity. We know such approaches from the experience of all religions, and the result is the lack of individual and community articulation, the situation of a person in perpetual confusion, without reference points and constantly in crisis as a seeker of fulfilment.

From a Christian perspective, this manner of unreserved acceptance of God’s existence and his status as the absolute foundation in relation to created being cannot be circumvented, diluted or adjusted either by logical arguments or by the manifestation of feelings under certain conditions. Faith requires a constant actualization of this willingness of human beings to relate to God without conditions, to admit his presence and manifestation in the world regardless of the challenges that arise. It requires an orientation of the being towards the transcendent and a continuous struggle to maintain this attitude. Only in these conditions can faith ensure the balance of the human being and give it that integral and unified experience which gives it fulfilment.

Faith and doubt

Human experience in the world presupposes doubt. It arises because human beings are often torn between their need for certainty in their knowledge of reality, i.e. their desire to grasp and understand it in its entirety, and what they actually manage to attain. The same is true of faith because the act of faith presupposes doubt. All the great theologians of the Church agree that the life of faith involves the tension of doubt that arises in relating to God. Faith, as a capacity through which we connect to reality, brings to human beings a kind of ambiguity, a kind of distance and discomfort that results from their desire to enter into a relationship with the supreme being, to know absolute reality. Through faith, humans open themselves to the divine being, but they can only grasp or understand it in a limited way and in a process of updating that constantly reassesses the position of the human being in relation to God. Christian spirituality has always stressed the paradoxical nature of faith. If God is transcendent, if he is beyond human comprehension, then the human being’s openness to him receives in return only a partial knowledge (1 Cor. 13:9). The history of the people of Israel has always shown the drama of a relationship built on faith: God expects to be loved by human beings with their entire strength; yet, when humans approach him, they are told that the divine being cannot be seen, that the sight of him brings destruction (Ex. 33:20).

The paradox of faith underlines the fact that it implies, in the believer, a level of certainty that comes precisely from openness to God with all of one’s being. Equally, the manifestation of faith brings with it a level of uncertainty, which implies doubt and is related to the ontological distance between humanity and divinity, between the created and the uncreated, between the finite and the infinite. The manifestation of faith makes us aware of our own limits, but also of the target of our aspirations. Centring on God implies losing the idea of certainty that human experience offers, as governed by the other human faculties within the horizon of reality that we can master. But even in everyday life, the idea of certainty is no longer valid. The limits of human knowledge are assumed in all fields, without having to abandon ourselves to relativism. In the manifestation of faith, doubt accompanies self-affirmation, the commitment of human freedom in relation to God as a transcendent reality that demands unconditional dedication. Faith makes possible the human beings’ adherence to a higher plane of being and their movement towards God, but it does not enable them to have at their disposal all the facts of this process and the coordinates of their own destiny, to enjoy the certainty of being at the end of the road.

By its very nature, faith is the capacity that human beings have and exercise to move towards God. Faith sets them on the road to the goal, makes them ever committed to the ultimate reality. As human beings advance along this path, the horizon widens, and they become increasingly aware of their limitations. Doubt appears as a human reflex reaction in the face of the unknown, it is like a dizziness felt before a vast, uncharted horizon. The experience of Christian mystics shows us that the life of faith admits doubt, as a question mark placed on the way humans perceive God and experience his presence. Doubt does not disappear even in those who are most mature in their faith; on the contrary, they are the most aware of its existence and of the tension that relating to God brings to their lives. In Christianity, faith takes account of this form of limited experience, with partial access to what is to be fully experienced at the end of history. The idea of eschatological fullness has a strong Christological character in Christianity. It does not cancel out the ontological distance between created and uncreated, the transcendence of God and the impossibility of comprehending him but refers to the attainment of that level of maturity and wholeness which comes from the relationship with Jesus Christ, with the son of man who has been intimately united with God forever. For the believer, doubt is the tension inherent in life in the world, and the emergence of eschatological certainty is equivalent to the disappearance of doubt (1Cor. 13).

A number of biblical examples are again telling in this regard. The opening of the people of the Bible to the God who revealed himself to them was an experience involving many oscillations, many doubts and risks, many unknowns. The doubts of Moses or of John the Baptist are exemplary, but they do not damage the character of either of them. Sarah laughs when she hears the divine message that she is to have a child, but the New Testament tells us that by faith she bore Abraham a son, that from a man who was almost dead she brought another man to life (Hebrews 11:11-12). Also, from other examples of the people of faith we see that the presence of doubt in the life of the believer represents a tension that can play both a positive role, as a stimulus or a challenging element to go further, to achieve more, and a negative one, which can lead to unpleasant and painful experiences, including despair or decisions to abandon the path of faith.

The risks of faith

Faith implies a response on the part of humans, a concrete commitment to God, even if he cannot be seen and felt, grasped and understood as we might wish. Because the subject of faith is transcendent, the relationship with it presupposes first the initiative of God, so that access to ultimate reality is a given. In Christianity, the human being’s relationship with God presupposes the self-revelation of the divine, and faith presupposes the acceptance of a given, of something that offers itself as true reality. Moreover, this self-offering of God is mediated before it is unmediated; it is embodied and part of a historical experience that is transmitted from one generation to the next before it is assumed and matured on a personal level. When God offers himself to faith, he expects a decision, a free act of response, even though this has to do with the requirement to accept a reality that humans cannot fully know and control. Equally, believers have their own limitations and reservations, illusions, and blockages in terms of his search and what is offered to them. As part of a communal experience in a particular cultural context, Christians approach God by assuming structures and elements that are offered to hthemim by a tradition of human experience that cannot be ignored. Here we have all the data to point out that to believe is to take risks, that the act of faith involves the risks of affirming freedom within the parameters of an existence with specific personal and social limits.

The idea of the wager of faith, as formulated by Blaise Pascal, has remained famous. It involves the idea that believing in God is more advantageous if one considers what one gains and what one may lose because of such a decision. For Pascal, it is not necessarily the idea of betting on the existence of God that is important, but that the exercise of faith admits risks. It is about the implication of potential disappointment or even self-deception, especially if faith is affirmed in relation to an imaginary construct, an ephemeral reality, an idol. It is not the future outcome of the decision to believe that is essential here, but its implications for life in the world, for the present. For the most part, the risks of faith lie in the way we project our expectations of life with God and how we construct the commitments we make in that direction. They also relate to the fact that the life of faith involves other believers, and that access to biblical revelation takes place within certain cultural and historical parameters.

Faith presupposes the courage to open one’s being and to accept the unknown that comes from one’s own limitations, that is, from the inability to comprehend God’s being and to know reality in all its complexity, but also from the lack of guarantees about how our life follows its destiny. Risks are part of the life of faith because they involve personal freedom and depends on the way we respond to the divine call. Yet, this freedom does not manifest itself in isolation, but it involves the freedom of others, the relationships that are established with others on the basis of the same purpose of life. God’s respect for human freedom implies the possibility of mistakes, bad decisions, misunderstanding, deception about oneself or others. Thus, the experience of faith brings a tension into the life of human beings, and it always brings out his traits, character, and consistency. Faith requires the willingness and courage to take risks in engaging in life’s decisions, the seeming recklessness to play one card, often despite the evidence.

Faith needs to engage the human person in an adventure that requires strength of character, trust and a willingness to surrender. The God of the Bible offers no guarantees but asks us to take his word for it. This is where the way we are willing to manage risk comes in and it is precisely in this way that human character emerges. Faith cannot express itself authentically if it is not based on a well-rounded, upright personality, because relating to God also implies relating to others. We risk committing our lives together with others in the effort to know God, but we have no other options and that is why the quality and seriousness of relationships is important. Lack of character threatens the manifestation of faith, it dilutes its strength and possibilities. We learn this lesson both from the people of the Bible and from many examples in history where the stakes are not religious. We have examples where faith engages people firmly in mutual commitment, such as the great examples of love in history or the great ideals that have been achieved. Expressing doubts, manifesting them when they come to light, is not an act of cowardice or unbelief, but a virtue, an act that confirms that one has faith and is on the right path. Faith and character are mutually reinforcing. Faith strengthens human character, develops it, tests it and strengthens it; a person of strong character lets faith develop and move her towards its ideals. The affirmation of faith is accompanied both by risks, such as the betrayal of expectations, betrayal by one’s peers, the missing of goals, and, alternatively, by remarkable achievements, from the building of a strong personality to the implications of an intense lifestyle resulting from choices made and orientation towards the supreme being.

Questions of faith

Faith involves a decision to accept the existence of God as part of reality, even if this cannot be empirically or rationally proven. The act of faith consists in that we base our personal lives on a foundation that gives meaning to our existence and provides the basis for shaping a vision of the world and life. In its impulse towards God, faith involves accepting a content, a set of truths, a rational understanding of the nature of humanity and the world. But the assumption of a meaning of existence and of principles that can provide a basis for personal life in history is not automatic. It does not develop by itself and does not require access to a set of statements that mechanically set the coordinates of our being. The exercise of faith involves a permanent effort to receive, evaluate and update at a personal level the foundations of divine revelation.

The rational expressions, the conceptual representations about the object of faith have a strong cultural character. Not only do they not exhaust the object of faith, but they gives it a garment, a body that is bounded by our possibilities of knowledge and communication. The life of faith involves making use of these rational representations, beliefs, and dogmas, by affirming personal freedom and other human capacities. This gives rise to a special relationship between faith and its content and a tension that seeks to manage doubt, risk, and the desire for logical-rational clarity.

Not infrequently, Christian spirituality presents the life of faith as a struggle with self and with God. Faith involves a kind of questioning on the part of human beings, both about the divine that animates them and about their own being, and their own experience of engagement with God. Frequently it seems that God himself encourages this dimension of questioning. It always has two expressions, from both ends. Sometimes God steps in and performs what we call faith testing. Relationally, he stretches the rope as far as he can to see the human reaction, the expression of human personality. We have plenty of biblical examples of this, along with their lessons. At other times, it is humans who subject to scrutiny the existence of God, his presence and action in the world, his justice and character, etc. All these are not acts of human folly or even blasphemy, but part of the normality of the life of faith. It is built up, developed through work, through questions and through confrontations that open the human being more and more to God.

It is normal for a rational and limited being to ask questions about God and reality, about oneself and what is going on around us. Faith stimulates this area of questioning and provides it with subjects of maximum intensity. Good questions reflect a quality life and the honest use of faith. They act as a catalyst for personal dynamics and a process of transformation that brings progress in knowledge. Scripture highlights this aspect and shows us the quality of divine pedagogy by delivering or stimulating deep questions to people of faith. Sometimes the questions have a narrow focus, being related to the self and the context in which we live our lives. At other times, the scope extends to much larger issues with impact on a larger scale. Here we can include the efforts of theologians who receive difficult questions from science or philosophy, economic, social, and political life. At this level, the tension is very high,  mistakes and, compromises are frequently made, and intense struggles take place.

The questions of faith, its insights and analyses are greater and deeper in those who are more mature on this path, not in those at the beginning, who usually have only certainties. We are often amazed at the example of John the Baptist who has so many questions about Jesus, even though he was the prophet who prepared the way for him. We are also often intrigued by the experiences of mystics who test God, who have questions about what he is doing. These are the struggles of faith that always face the ever-deepening mystery of God into which man is sinking deeper and deeper. The questions, the tests, the struggles make faith ever more authentic because they correspond to an experience that is closer to maturity than in the beginning phase. Little by little, these questions no longer have the stakes of the childhood stage, that of certainties, but have to do with one’s own being, with its inability to be more and more transparent to God and to one’s peers, to the ideals towards which we strive.

God’s gift

In Christianity, faith presupposes the capacity of the human person to open up to God. The reality towards which faith demands an act of decision and acceptance is a personal one, it involves an I-thou relationship, an encounter, an adventure of love. The acceptance of ultimate reality as a personal being makes faith a capacity for personal reception and orientation towards the other, and makes the act of faith an encounter, a going out to meet God. With these observations we arrive at a biblical formula that describes faith as the gift of God.

This phrase must be understood in the complexity of the reality of faith. It is a gift because God has placed in us this capacity to seek him and to know him, the desire to turn towards him always despite the challenges of life. It is a gift because God himself comes into action and calls upon this human faculty by addressing it and putting it to work. God’s promise is that we are not left alone in this effort to know and respond to him (In. 14:16-19; 16:13-14). It is also a gift because it is he who evaluates it and leaves us the same right to question, to weigh, to test the divine word.

Faith is achieved by affirming our freedom, by deciding to turn towards God, to accept his existence and manifestation in the world, despite our limitations to understand him fully. By faith we express our willingness to consider the authority of the words of divine revelation and the fact that they are fulfilled in the data of human history. Faith gives us the courage and the desire to assume them personally and to embody them in a concrete way of life. On the individual level, it develops as trust in the divine person, as relational openness to God and to one’s fellow human beings, relationships which strengthen one’s personality and character.

The wonder of faith is that it operates in human beings even when they do not explicitly assume this faculty, just as with other capacities placed in them by the creator. The wonder is all the greater when you see people who have clearly defined their individuality and their place in the world, using faith as an engine that has energised their being towards goals, ideals and values, however fleeting, but noble.

Dănuț Jemna

Translated by DeepL Translation edited by Dănuț Mănăstireanu