Faith and the Dark Night: Part I

St John Of The Cross 2
September 20, 2014

He who believes and is baptized will be saved, but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mk 16:16).

 

What is it about faith that is a necessary (if insufficient) condition for salvation?  Christians are so used to hearing of the need for faith in order to be saved, that we often do not step back and ask why.  This makes it very difficult to evangelize a society that has come to regard faith as irrational.  Since we are interested in the new evangelization, let us look more closely at the meaning of faith.

This confusion about the relationship between faith and reason was evident some years ago when Blessed Teresa of Calcutta’s spiritual director published some of her letters.  There was great interest in this book among the popular press because the letters revealed her nearly 50 year struggle with her faith, a struggle that for most of the world appeared as though she had “lost” her faith.  In fact, most Christians who had not asked themselves about the meaning of faith would be hard pressed not to agree.  In one letter, she said that she did not experience her faith; she felt only darkness and emptiness.  However, in her public life she continued to profess her deep faith in God through action and word.  In her letters, she admitted that at times this made her feel like a hypocrite.  Does this mean that she “lost” her faith?

In order to answer this question, let us focus on just two preliminary questions: (a) what is faith and (b) why is it necessary?  Because faith is a command from God, we can see straight away that it must be (at least in part) a human act; that is, it must be an act of the intellect and will.  Yet, we know that humanity cannot do anything of its own initiative that is salvific, so we know that faith must be more than just a human act; it must also include divine assistance.

Before doing a short analysis of the various aspects of faith, we should say what faith must be in general.  We know that those who are saved are those who are in a relationship of love with Jesus Christ, that is, they are members of His Church.  If we look at faith in this context, we can see the human aspect of faith must be a commitment to this relationship, a commitment that is nothing other than an act of the will.  We are now ready for our analysis of faith.  We will initially look at it in terms of forming human relationships.

All intimate relationships require trust, but no relationship begins as an intimate one.  Rather, the persons in such relationship first must come to know each other.  As they increase in their knowledge of one another, they also develop increasing levels of trust.  Trust is a prerequisite to an intimate relationship.

In fact, because we are made for relationships, we need trust just to live in society.  There is no place we can go in which we do not have to, in some way, trust others.  A quick audit of daily life will verify the level of interdependence we have on others.  We naturally give trust, usually unreflectively, to almost everyone we meet, even if for the first time.  For example, if we meet someone on the street and make mutual introductions, in most instances we believe what he tells us about himself. 

We cannot have a relationship unless we first trust.  The depth of a relationship is measured by the level of trust between the two parties comprising the relationship.  Moreover, we cannot fulfill ourselves as human persons without these deep, trusting, giving relationships with others.  We are created for fulfilling relationships so we are made to trust. 

To be skeptical is an anti-human disposition.  Now skepticism is not the same as prudential caution.  If the consequences are grave for misplaced trust and/or the probability is high that one’s trust might be abused in less than grave situations, caution is quite reasonable; such is prudential caution. However, skepticism is not an act of prudence.  It is an act of the will against trust before even opening oneself to the rational consideration of the reasonableness of a proposition; skepticism is an act of prejudgment; we also call this prejudice.  In other words, a skeptic has already made up his mind against trusting another without fairly considering the evidence.  To be authentically human one must first trust; man is one who believes.

Once we trust (with prudential caution) we then are open to hearing, understanding, and considering a given proposition.  This proposition is one in which we are asked to believe because it is reasonable.  Such trust is not a rare event mind you.  It is something we do countless times throughout the day. Those who tabulate such things claim that over 90% of what we “know” we have accepted in trust from others without verifying it for ourselves. If the proposition is reasonable and the proposer is credible and competent (and there is little reason to distrust him) then it is eminently reasonable to begin the process of trusting the proposition.  Of course, various persons are going to have a variety of questions to be answered before determining any such proposition is, in the end, reasonable.  Ultimately, for relationships these propositions are truth claims about the other person, claims about who he is.

Trust is the first step in faith.  When this trust is sufficiently high and the knowledge of the other reaches a point we can judge that this person is worthy of a complete and full commitment, then each party can make such a commitment.  When we make this commitment, this act of the will, we say we have faith in this person.  Faith is a commitment to a relationship of trust and love.  Given the ubiquitous nature of intimate relationships, we can observe that trust and faith are eminently human.  Because we fulfill ourselves only through rightly ordered relationships, the less of trust and faith we possess, the more we reduce the likelihood we will ever fulfill ourselves has human persons.

...to be continued in Faith and the Dark Night: Part II.

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