My step-sister has end-stage cancer. She still hopes for a miracle cure, as do
Is my faith to be a hope that somehow the doctors got the diagnosis wrong? Clearly that would be a perversion of faith. To me it seems essential to faith that it be an expression, at least of the possibility, of there being more to human existence than we can see or know. My faith does not take the givens of what we can know and contradict them, on this view. It places them in a larger context.
The question then confronts me, if faith expresses a conviction that there is more to life than I can see or know, where does it come from? I think that it comes from the conviction of good people in trying times that it is the good that they can see and know that connects them to what they cannot see and know. The imperative of a good will dictates the content of one’s ontology. Whatever one thinks of Luther and Lutheranism, one sees that view of faith clearly in his—some think apocryphal—“Here I stand, I can do no other.” No matter what the actual words were, clearly the existential “ought” in Luther's life became more real to him than any visible existential “is.” To me that is what faith means, or at least what it ought to mean. And that is why it can and does exist in the midst of great countervailing facts: Quite simply, it transcends them.
The wager of faith, to speak crudely, is that not only is there more to human existence than we can know, but that that “more” can be understood by faith as an expression of what life requires of a good person. If life has a larger meaning than we can understand—at least if it has one worth knowing—that is it. And just so, if we are invited to live as members of the kingdom of heaven, we must be guided by our best motives as we remain open to a reality greater than our understanding.
But why would anyone choose to believe in something beyond their understanding? The question implies a misunderstanding. One does not choose to act on insufficient evidence. Rather, one chooses to interpret insufficient evidence in light of one’s best motives and hopes. What else is one to do? It is when we encounter an existential crisis, then, that faith comes to light. And the reality of the existential crisis speaks louder than any proof or evidence, because it speaks for the human heart. I believe that William James nailed the idea when he wrote, “…to refuse to cultivate a feeling of security would be to do violence to a tendency in one’s emotional life which might well be respected a prophetic.” (Preface to The Meaning of Truth)
I, for one, can do no other tomorrow. I will express my fondest hope to my step-sister that our family’s love for her—with all the hope that that entails—can and should inform our belief. Is that intellectual courage, or cowardice? I say neither, for once again the question implies a misunderstanding. Faith transcends that question, and for those who have it, its possibility entails its necessity.