The word faith is often used colloquially as a synonym for trust or belief: “You just have to have faith.” That is the “official” definition of faith as found in the Oxford English Dictionary: “Belief, trust, confidence”. Other uses and definitions of the word faith exist but faith as belief, trust, or confidence are the predominant uses of the word. Uses such as those, however, do not do justice to the real meaning of faith.
Let’s turn to the writings of the apostle Paul. “Now faith is the substance [assurance] of things hoped for, the evidence [proof] of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1).
We’ll accept the premise that there are things that are not seen but that exist. There are truths that are self-evident and self-existent that are not and cannot be observed. There are things that exist that we hope for but cannot see or hear or experience until some point in the future. As Alma stated: “And now as I said concerning faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.” (Alma 32:21).
A part of faith is hope or belief but faith is much more than that. Thomas Hobbes explained faith in his work Leviathan: “But what (may some object) if a King, or a Senate, or other Soveraign Person forbid us to beleeve in Christ? To this I answer, that such forbidding is of no effect, because Beleef, and Unbeleef never follow mens Commands. Faith is a gift of God, which Man can neither give, nor take away by promise of rewards, or menaces of torture.” (Hobbes, Leviathan, iii. xlii. 271; spelling and punctuation not modernized). “Faith is a gift of God.” Wait, isn’t faith a gift we give to God? We believe in Him even though we don’t see Him? That’s belief and hope and trust. Faith transcends belief. Faith is a gift from God.
As Paul wrote, faith is an assurance of things hoped for and evidence of things not seen. Faith is thus given as proof for our belief. Faith isn’t the antecedent, faith is the consequent. Belief and good works are the antecedent.
Alma further taught: “But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words. Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.” (Alma 32:27-28).
We have desires to believe. Do we plant that desire of belief in our hearts? Not really. What we plant is the seed of faith (really, the word but I’ll incorporate faith into the word for now). We do not create this seed, it is a gift from God. That seed is planted and not cast out by our unbelief. We have to belief and trust and follow the Lord’s commands to nurture the seed of faith. As we do so, we are blessed with further evidence (faith) as we see the seed grow and sprout and produce good fruit.
Why it is important to recognize that faith is evidence (proof) is that many times we feel like we are acting “just with faith” until we receive proof – some big spiritual manifestation that will remove the need for faith (e.g., “Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant; and this because you know, for ye know that the word hath swelled your souls.” Alma 32:34). However, faith is exactly the proof we are looking for. How many times do we believe and trust and hope and experiment upon the word but miss the results of that experiment (faith)? So often we seek for signs without realizing that faith is the sign we’ve been seeking. Faith is a gift from God. As Moroni wrote on spiritual gifts: “And to [some is given] exceedingly great faith” (Moroni 10:11). Faith comes of and by the Spirit of the Lord.
Faith is part of a positive feedback loop. This means that with increased faith comes increased hope and belief and trust. Those in turn can increase faith. However, at its core, faith is a manifestation of God’s spirit and power. It is a gift from Him given to us to bless our lives and help us know of His love for us.
To read more that is related to this topic, read this previous post of mine: Philosophical Arguments and the Existence of God. We need to realize that our assumptions of what constitutes as evidence do not necessarily equate with the evidence given to us by God.