Over many years I have heard and read many definitions of faith. One of my favorites goes like this: “Faith means betting your life on God.”
To some people faith is a serious flaw in the fabric of religion. The Philosopher Bertrand Russell once wrote: “We may define faith as a firm belief in something for which there is no evidence. When there is evidence, no one speaks of faith. We do not speak of faith that two and two are four or that the earth is round. We only speak of faith when we wish to substitute emotion for evidence.” The American journalist, H.L. Mencken defined faith as an “illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable.”
I personally do not agree with Russell that faith is belief without evidence. Nor do I agree with Mencken that it is an illogical belief. I do conceded however that our faith is not a set of finished, finalized and proven facts. How would one go about proving god, or if He is, what He is like, or the immortality of the soul?
Our faith deals with matter that cannot be reduced to a mathematical formula, or poured into a test tube, or studied under a microscope. All of this I recognize and freely concede, but I fail to see how it renders our faith invalid.
This lack of absolute knowledge is not the private domain of religion It is, in fact, shared by most of the important areas of our lives. Almost nothing that we care about and undertake can be finally proven in the scientific sense of the term.
Young people make vocational choices, then set about to prepare for them, and then to do them. How can they possibly know and prove that they have made the right choice? Was there not something else that they might have done better, or enjoyed more, or used to a greater benefit?
A man and woman fall in love and decide to get married. How can they know beyond doubt that they are right for each other? Statistics can be sighted to show that their marriage has a good chance of failure. Still they make their choice, take their vows, and start their life together.
The truth is that all of life is a great adventure. No one can live strictly on the basis of known and proven facts. Life at its best means taking a chance on those things that we really believe in. And that is what religious faith is and always has been.
In response to the call of God, Abraham in the Old Testament, “went forth, not knowing where he was going.” That same spirit of venture can be seen on every page of the New Testament. Jesus did not entice people into His movement with promises of health and wealth. Instead He invited them to join Him in an adventure of creative and dangerous living. Those who accepted His challenger were sometimes frightened, sometimes bewildered, and often amazed. They were betting their lives on someone and something in which they truly believed.
There is a sense in which we do the same thing. The element of risk is an inevitable party of human life. No one knows what tomorrow holds. We must bet our lives on something. Can we really go wrong by taking a chance on God?!