Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Ordinariness of Faith

I hit some traffic last Saturday. I don’t mean literally hit, but I do mean traffic. I was driving back from Barnes to Twickenham when suddenly the traffic ahead ground almost to a standstill. Seeing how long and slow moving the queue was, I took a leap of faith. I took a blind left turn and switched on the satnav.

Without really knowing where I was going, I followed the satnav to Roehampton, where I hit another major jam. Fortunately on the satnav screen I noticed a side road heading towards Richmond Park. So I swung off-piste again and drove through the park, missing the traffic and enjoying an uninterrupted drive home.

The leap of faith paid off.

How is it, I wonder, that some people can write off faith as some sort of mindless and mystical belief, and despise it as unreasonable? They reduce it to something ethereal and strange, and talk about ‘people of faith’ as though there is some other group of people who are not ‘of faith’. And yet we all exercise faith in very ordinary ways, all the time.

It takes faith to be a passenger. It takes faith to make a commitment. Sometimes it takes faith just to get up in the morning.

Faith, it’s true, is not based on logic and reason. But that doesn’t make it unreasonable. By and large we base it on two things: recommendation and experience.

If I know someone who knows the stock market well, and I buy some shares on their recommendation, that’s a step of faith. I’m trusting in their judgement and their experience, even though there’s no guarantee that my shares won’t crash and burn. If I go into it more deeply, I may build up my own experience and feel confident to make the same kind of decisions for myself.

We who have faith in God base that faith on the same things. We all heard about him from someone else, whether from parents, from a friend, or maybe a Christian minister. What we heard sounded strange to begin with, but we were persuaded to look into if further. Maybe we began to pray and experienced remarkable answers; or we began to enter into worship, and were touched by a powerful presence like nothing else we had ever experienced. Either way, we developed a faith that is not ethereal of intangible or merely a product of wishful thinking. It’s based on solid experience of our own, and millions of others throughout history.

If that kind of faith really is unreasonable, we had better all sell our shares, throw away our satnavs, pull the quilt over our heads and wait in bed for the end of the world.

Do you think the government should reduce overseas aid?