I have been thinking a lot about the place of faith in my life. Most people approach it as a religious concept — myself included — but I have always also understood it to be philosophical in nature as well. Regardless of your position on organized religion, faith is a critical component in life. Without faith, it is nearly impossible to love others, achieve goals, and take on important and immensely complex realities believing that you can succeed and achieve.
What Is Faith?
I believe in science. I believe that truth can be found through observation, measurement, and experiment, and in the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses. But I also believe that there are realities that fall outside of these boundaries. And to believe in them with vigor and fortitude requires faith.
I have trust and confidence in many things that I cannot apply the scientific method to. I have faith in people, faith in myself, and faith in God — all in spite of evidence. In short, I have faith in things that I cannot see and understand.
Seeing the limitations of science and making the conscious effort to suspend reason and accept a truth on faith is important. It is what helps us believe in powers greater than ourselves. Faith is “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” — Hebrews 11:1
Strict scientific evaluation cannot explain the mystery of faith. And that’s okay. It is, however, important to leave science to science and faith to faith. I do not want science to explain my faith and I do not want my faith to explain science. But in order for me to have a full life, it is important to believe in these two separate but equally important things.
“Faith begins precisely there where thinking leaves off.” — Søren Kierkegaard
Faith In People
I have been blessed to believe in the capacity of people — even when they may not have faith in themselves. Perhaps it is my optimistic midwestern values at work but I believe in the outsized abilities of people. I believe that they have within them the capability to be more than they are. And often I believe that in spite of evidence.
This is not true for all people. Some people rise to the level of their comfort — others to the level of their incompetence. But some people surprise even themselves and they rise beyond the level of their pre-established capabilities. I think that is because certain people approach the problem differently — even if they don’t know that they are doing it.
“There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” — Robert F. Kennedy
In certain people, I have faith in their ability to find their own unique and wonderful way even if they do not. And I am often excited to see that I was right. They are often surprised to find out how much more they can be than what they once believed.
Faith In Ourselves
In order for me to have faith in people, I have to have faith in myself. This is not to say that I have to be confident all the time. Rather, I have to believe that I am on the right path, that I can get to where I want to go, and that that destination is much greater than what I and others might expect. In short, I have to believe in my abilities with an ambition that is of consequence to the end result.
It is often times harder to have faith in yourself than it is to have faith in others. I routinely come back to one of my favorite quotes that provides me with perspective of how small I am in such a large universe.
“Oh God, thy sea is so great and my boat is so small.” — John F. Kennedy
The humility brought by considering your perspective is important. It balances your thinking and recenters you no matter how large your ego. And when I believe that I am too small, that I have little power, and that it is all just too much, I remember that so many have been there before and that they have defied overwhelming odds to fight through it. For this, I turn to the immortal words emblazoned on the battle flag of Commodore James Perry.
“Don’t Give Up The Ship!” — James Lawrence
It is critical to remember that people have been the creators of great art and literature as well as science and engineering. It is up to me, to you, to us to believe that people have it within them to be great — and then help them find ways for them to achieve to the level of their greatness. This includes ourselves as well. Being humble but confident and strident in our approach is a key for having faith in ourselves and in others.
Faith In God
I was recently asked by someone very dear to me how I could possibly have faith in her given that she has so little faith in herself. I took a moment to consider that and came to a realization that surprised me.
Religion, specifically Christianity, has been a fundamentally important part of my life. I have spent nearly a decade in Catholic education (go Jesuits!) and am a member of a Christian community in my home of Denver, Colorado. I have also studied and practiced Buddhism and have love for my Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh brothers and sisters among the many other religions I admire. Because of my views on God, I have a different perspective on what is possible.
“You can’t conceive, my child, nor can I or anyone the appalling… strangeness of the mercy of God.” — Graham Greene
What faith requires is trust in the unexplainable. Faith in God requires quite a bit of that given the enormity and scope of what we believe God to be. Given the outsized nature of that trust, it inherently requires more than what a reasonable level of trust in people might.
If I can believe in the mystery of God and have faith in something that immense and unexplainable; imagine how much easier it is for me to have faith in others and faith in myself.
Why I Chose Faith
Faith requires intentionality. It demands that we accept these difficult realities and believe in them in the absence of evidence. It is so much easier — and hell…even more rational — to resist faith.
There have been times in my own life where I have lost my faith in God, in people, and in myself. That will happen — you will be tested. And you will fall down. But you can get back up again.
In order to want to have faith, in order to believe, and in order to have trust in greater things, you have to want it. For myself, here is why I have faith:
There was a time in the history of every great thing and every great person when they were not great. Yet, in spite of that, they succeeded. That alone is proof that more is possible than we may be capable of right now. I have faith in the long game and in my belief in things I cannot see or understand right now. I have faith in so much more than I can understand today.