“You’ve got to have faith to believe“.
That’s pretty profound and I’m sure somebody famous somewhere has been quoted as saying it. A quick Google search revealed at least four songs that contain the phrase, everyone from George Michael to Bruce Springsteen has used it at one point. It’s such a common phrase that to attribute it to anyone is pointless.
But what is “faith” and what’s it for?
Napoleon Hill gave a good working definition of faith way back in the 1930s in his book “Think and Grow Rich”.
Faith is the “eternal elixir” that gives life, power, and action to the impulse of thought.
Faith is the starting point of all accumulation of riches.
Faith is the basis of all “miracles” and of all mysteries that cannot be analyzed by the rules of science.
Faith is the only known antidote for failure.
Faith is the element that, when mixed with desire, gives you direct communication with infinite intelligence.
Faith is the element that transforms the ordinary vibrations of thought, created by the human mind, into their spiritual equivalent.
Faith is the only way the force of infinite intelligence can be harnessed and used. [Napoleon Hill; Think and Grow Rich]
Napoleon Hill set out to write the first comprehensive philosophy of success and he hit on an essential element when he discovered the link between success and faith. For Hill faith was not a religious word, as many of us associate it today, he was not writing about faith as something that is placed “out there” into the functioning of some external deity he was instead using the word faith in its correct grammatical form.
When I was in high-school my Christian friends and I had a saying: “faith is a verb”. Faith is something you do, not something you “have”. The phrase; “have faith,” is misleading in that it makes it seem like a passive response when to have faith is really to make an active choice.
The other great definition of faith is found in the book of Hebrews.
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. [Hebrews 11:1]
Hebrews 11 has been called the faith hall of fame as the author goes on to give a list of great men throughout history up to that point who acted purely out of faith. By faith – Abel brought his offering, Enoch received eternal life, Noah built an ark, Abraham was willing to sacrifice his only son, etc.
Faith gives us power and strength when we have no reason to believe in ourselves otherwise. It is confidence and assurance as Hebrews puts it, it’s the elixir of life and the antidote for failure, to quote Hill.
But what happens when we lose faith, or just don’t have any to begin with?
Life without faith is a dark and desperate place. In The Divine Comedy Dante describes the gates of hell with an inscription that reads in part “abandon all hope, those who enter here”. Hell is a hopeless place devoid of faith.
I have only seen this level of despair once in my life when I went to visit a friend who had been contemplating suicide. For years this person had lived with a vision of life that she could not make into reality, she had fought circumstances beyond her control to make a life for herself that lined up with the pictures in her head of what happiness was. Her family never believed in her, they put her down and at times actively sought to sabotage her efforts until finally she started to believe the messages they were sending. Confidence was lost and faith soon followed. And if we read Hebrews backwards we can easily see that without faith, there is no hope. Life for this friend became a living hell.
So where do you turn when hope and faith are lost?
Sadly the Bible doesn’t really give us the answers. What it says very clearly is “don’t”. Don’t lose hope, don’t lose faith, fear not, and rest in the knowledge that you are an infinitely valuable image bearer of the divine. Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest California and author of the best seller, The Purpose Driven Life recently said that you can tell the worth of something by measuring what someone is willing to pay for it. We know from scripture that God was willing to pay a huge price for us. We are valuable enough to die for! Therefore; we can’t lose hope that our lives are worth living. That’s what love is and it’s the basis for holding on to faith in the midst of despair.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners (without hope and without faith), Christ died for us. [Romans 5:8]