Living faith is a gift of God that makes God’s existence transparent in everything we see and do, in the joy and peace we receive in good times and in the mercy and strength we receive in difficult times. This gift is offered openly and freely to everyone, but, like all God’s gifts, the gift of living faith is not always openly received, even by people who yearn to receive it. This unrequited yearning is poignantly expressed to Jesus by the father of the epileptic boy: “I do believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24), he cries out, desperately seeking the faith he needs to believe that Jesus can heal his son. As much as we may want to believe, to receive God’s gift of living faith, we often are, like the father of the epileptic boy, burdened by “unbelief.”
Unconditional faith, free of “unbelief,” is rooted in unconditional trust in a loving and powerful God. The word “faith,” itself, has its root in the Indo-European word, bheidh, which translated means trust. If our ability to trust has been shaken by our life experiences, by feeling abandoned or betrayed by others, especially in childhood, we may struggle all our lives with the burden of “unbelief,” and if that ability to trust has been broken by a repetition of traumatic experiences, the gift of faith may become unreachable.
For a rare few, however, this unconditional faith is egosyntonic, so much a part of them that they don’t even notice it is there, except on the rare occasions when their trust is tested. With undamaged, childlike trust in God, they experience the force of living faith in all their thoughts and actions, and in the face of all earthly distractions and discouragements, they are able to see and to trust God’s hand inspiring and guiding their lives. Such people offer themselves to God daily, to be of service to Him, and to fulfill His divine purpose in their lives; and they are aware of God’s presence in all they encounter.
In the Garden at Gethsemane, we see a tangible example of the human struggle to remain trusting and faithful. Here, facing crucifixion, Jesus grapples with fear and distrust and, ultimately, proclaims his unconditional faith. He prays: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me, yet not as I will but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). Unresolved, he prays again: “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak….My Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking it, your will be done!” (Matthew 26:41-42). Finally, praying a third time, “…saying the same thing” (Matthew 26:44), Jesus is resolved, with unconditional trust and faith, to do his Father’s will.
We can see in Jesus’ agony in Gethsemane that sustaining unconditional trust and faith includes struggling: “The flesh is weak,” and we are all human. Living faith, then, is always tested by difficulties that strengthen our trust, just as our lives are strengthened by the difficulties we face.
So often, we will point to our difficulties in life as proof that faith is meaningless, even as proof that God doesn’t exist. Equating faith with guarantees of personal gratification, we become disappointed that we don’t get what we want or that we face problems. We seem to forget that living faith is not a genie in a bottle, ready at the rubbing to fulfill our wishes. Rather, living faith is a source of strength, fortifying us to cope with our problems, to move forward with courage, and to be useful.