Faith in Life's Certainties and Possibilities

ommuting traffic jam

What is faith? A lot of people tell us, "Oh, you can't live without faith. You have to have faith of some kind." Many of us, I think, react against that because we feel that faith is something that is non-rational, indeed something that is actually irrational. It seems to us as something that does not yield to the examination of the intellect, and indeed has little to do with analysis or intellectual, analytical thinking. So, we resent this idea that you have to have faith of some kind. We tend to respond and say, "Forget it, I don't want to have faith--if faith is what I see in so many religious people: it seems to me a kind of superstition that is passed on from generation to generation. Or it seems to be a series of fears or complexes or superstitions."

What we've shared so far in the study that we've engaged upon just from yesterday is that faith is not something irrational or non-rational like that. Real faith is something that actually we exercise every day in our lives. Every time you step into your car and turn the key in the ignition, you are fully persuaded and convinced that the engine will roar into life. Then, of course, you put your foot down on the throttle and try to set the choke again and you try it again. You turn the ignition key fully expecting that the engine will roar into life. You put your faith rather, on the surface, non-rational expectation that simply turning that key is going to produce a noise in your car, and not only a noise, but is going to produce enough power to move it along and to get you to the office.

So, from the very moment we open the refrigerator door and expect the light to go on so that we will be able to see what's inside it in the morning, to the moment when we pour out the orange juice and put our faith in the fact that we're going to enjoy what we drink when we lift the glass to our lips, to the moment when we go into the office and put our faith in the expectation that we have that our boss will recognize us and the other people will remember us from yesterday, we are putting our faith in things and in people and situations from the moment we awaken in the morning till the moment we go to bed at night. So, it is foolish for us to regard faith as something unusual or something abnormal. Faith in fact is something that we exercise in ordinary everyday life constantly.

Now, some of you may say, "Oh, now wait a minute. That's not faith you're talking about. All these things are knowledge. They're certainties. They're absolute certainties." Well, of course you only have to think of those of us who went into work one morning during the recent recession and found out that our faith that our job would be there, and that we would be wanted was shattered--and we can see immediately that these are not certainties. This is not knowledge. This is not utterly and absolutely reliable. We have only to look at the times when we have turned the key in the ignition and we found that actually the engine didn't start.

So, we can easily see that most of the experiences of faith that we have in our everyday life are based on the fact that certain possibilities are simply probabilities, but they are also possibilities. It is probable that they will work but it is possible that they won't work. In other words, when we talk about faith in our ordinary, everyday life, we're not talking about absolute certainties. We're talking about things that are very probable and very likely but we've only to look at the number of occasions on which they have failed or they have not happened as we expect, to persuade ourselves that faith is not a certainty even in everyday life.

Indeed, most of us would probably admit if we were forced to it that there are very few certainties in everyday life. Most of us have found that things we call absolute certainties and utter proven knowledge are not those things at all. Indeed, we could find that even such a mathematical addition as one and one making two is not always true. Certain mathematicians can prove that one and one does not always make two. Indeed we could probably discover that most of the so-called certainties in measurements we make are not certainties at all and are not fixed points in knowledge at all. When we even measure a thing and say, "That's three-feet six inches", really it's not three-feet six inches. It's three feet six inches maybe to the nearest hundredth of an inch or near thousandth of an inch or the near millionth of an inch, but it probably isn't anywhere near exactly three-feet six inches.

So, it's true of so many things in our everyday life. Most things in our practical lives are not absolute certainties. They are not absolute, pure knowledge that can be proven to be true. Most of the things that we base our lives on day by day are only reasonable possibilities. Some of them are as uncertain as reasonable possibilities. Indeed when we talk about everyday practical life, we're talking very much more about faith there than we ever are about knowledge. There are probably very few certain pieces of knowledge that we can be absolutely precise and exact about. And most of the things that we live our lives by are more or less true and more or less probable.

So in everyday life, we exercise faith daily, always putting the best bet that we can on a certain event taking place, using the information that we have from yesterday, using the observations that we've made of other people being in the same situation, watching and keeping a track record of what has happened in the past, and concluding from that that it's likely that this will happen in the future, all the while realizing that the exceptions prove to us beyond any shadow of doubt that there is no absolute certainty that most things we live by, day by day, are faith issues. They are events or circumstances or procedures that we put our faith in because we think that is the most likely thing to happen. And it's not as wild as gambling at Las Vegas, but it certainly is putting the best judgement we can on a series of events that we have observed. It is making the best estimate that we possibly can that a certain thing is likely to happen.

And yet, of course, we all would admit we live our lives in absolute certainty and confidence that these will take place even though we cannot prove them indisputably by black and white science or by black and white philosophy. Yet, we live our lives in a great deal of confidence and a great deal of assurance even though most of the things we act upon we act upon in faith. So, faith is a normal part of everyday life; even in the events that we so often talk about as absolute knowledge. In the end, it is really a question of faith.