Faith, a Composite
© 23 Jun 2011 Luther Tychonievich
Licensed under Creative Commons: CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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An effort to disentangle the modern usage of the word “‍faith‍”.


Last night in institute we discussed “‍faith‍”, comparing it to a few dozen symbols and other principals. As we did so it became clear to me that the usage we were discussing was so broad and diverse as to be of limited use in distinguishing between ideas. I thus offer by totally un-scientific, un-researched, seat-of-the-pants guide to reducing the word “‍faith‍” to a practical size. I do this by rooting for other words that can be used in its place in particular circumstances.

First, if you mean “‍belief‍” use “‍belief‍”. I believe that it will rain today. I believe that Christ was resurrected. That these beliefs have different sources does not make them any less beliefs. Be proud of your beliefs.

If “‍belief‍” isn’t the right word, how about “‍hope‍” or “‍trust‍”? I hope for a glorious resurrection. I trust God will make good on His promises. Perfectly good words, well understood, widely used in the scriptures. You can communicate a lot with these words.

I also hear “‍faith‍” used to refer to “‍love‍” or “‍desire‍”. These are admittedly less common, but no less significant. For example, when we refer to tithing with faith we often actually mean people who tithe out of love or desire. I would posit that a loving tithe is a higher idea than a faithful tithe, and using the word faithful there is reducing the meaning.

One usage of “‍faith‍” does not seem to have a good alternative, and that is the attitude that results in faithfulness. If I have faith in the law of tithing then I will tithe faithfully, meaning that my desires, means, and emotions aside, I will tithe unless truly prevented from doing so. A soldier with faith in his commander will obey, always. A faithful spouse will be true to the marriage covenant no matter the emotional and hormonal urges to do otherwise.

“‍Faith, hope, and love, these three‍” are, or at least ought to be, three. The happy belief and confidence of hope. The unwavering commitment and reliability of faith. The motivating, eager, soul-changing love. Perhaps I’m totally off-base, and by advocating this distinction I am pigeonholing a large concept into a small box, but even if “‍faith‍” is a larger word than I propose I still think using alternative words for clarity is worth a thought.

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