Two leaps of Faith
Faith is an essential element of Christianity. It is included in Paul’s’ top three Christian Virtues (1 Corinthians 13:13). It is a never ending topic of discussion in sermons, literature and the like. In evangelical circles faith is often likened to trust. We are to trust what God says, believe it is true and live accordingly. This can be an enormous challenge. In this article I will contend that this type of faith has a sibling, which is often overlooked. Every time one trusts God in faith this sibling is present. Without it the act of faith is not possible.
The Qua and the Quae
A picture often used to describe faith is that of a father waiting to catch his child with outstretched arms. The child is standing on a window ledge, the father is calling the child and telling him/her to jump. There are many variations on this picture but the key element is always the same. The person doing the jumping must relinquish control and jump placing their destiny in the hands of the father. This illustrates the kind of trust I believe that God desires from us. It may involve dramatic episodes like placing yourself in dangerous circumstances such as a missionary or trusting God for financial well being via “faith”-offerings. It can also refer to rather mundane and long term steps people take in their lives like eschewing a profitable profession for one in the ministry or refraining from certain practices in the hope (or faith) that God will eventually reward such decisions. This is the first kind of faith and usually what one thinks of when discussing faith.
The second kind of faith focuses not on trust but on knowledge. Recall the picture of a child leaping into the arms of his/her father. Imagine that the child is so far away so that it is difficult to understand what his/her father is saying. In addition it is quite windy making his words even less understandable. Before the child jumps he/she must be convinced of what the father is saying. Maybe he isn’t yelling “jump” but rather “wait for the ladder.” If the child were to jump under these circumstances, it would not be faith but foolishness.
In order to act in faith one must first know what the act requires. In the past theologians recognized this distinction and used specific Latin terminology to distinguish these aspects of faith. fides qua creditur: the faith which by which it is believed (i.e. the jumping) and fides quae creditur: the faith which is believed (i.e. the knowing).
A Symbiotic Relationship
Thus, the qua requires the quae. The act of faith is dependent upon the determination of what should be acted on. Should the child jump or wait for the ladder? This relationship between the qua and the quae would seem fairly obvious. But is that all? I would suggest that the quae is also dependent upon the qua. To claim to know what one should act upon in and of itself requires a leap of faith.
The fides quae is fundamentally a question about knowing and thus epistemology. Two classical epistemological questions are:
- How can I know something?
- How can I be certain that I know something?
In my assessment there are three basic ways in which we can know what God expects of us:
- The rational approach, which attempts to formulate specifics of the faith through interpreting the Bible.
- The spiritual approach, which attempts to ascertain God’s will though prayer, meditation and the like.
- The natural approach, which attempts to glean God’s will through experience and wisdom.
These are the ways we usually respond to the first first epistemological question. This is the how.
But what about certainty? How do we know we have truly achieved knowledge? This is a question which has been pondered throughout the ages from Plato to Descartes to Kant and on to Derrida. I would suggest that without a certain degree of fides qua (the jumping, acting, trusting kind of faith) the knowledge element fides quae is not possible. Consider the three approaches. There are different interpretations of the Bible, different schools of thought on how to interpret it correctly, how does one decide which rational approach is correct? And the spiritual method? Is it not possible to be deceived? The spiritual approach is perhaps the most passive of the three. A fides qua is almost implied in such approaches, since one must trust that God will inform him via the spirit. And the natural approach? A brief look at the diversity within Christianity should be enough to show that there are many options, experience and traditions all claiming to be correct. But is one really certain that it is correct? At the end of the day does not on simply take a leap of faith and decide for one tradition over the other. I believe that all three options ultimately at some point require a leap of faith, a fides qua. In terms of the analogy. At some point the child up on the window ledge makes a decision that he/she has understood what his/her father has said. In spite of the possibility that his message was heard incorrectly, a decision is made, an epistemological leap of faith, which in turn is the basis for the second existential leap of faith.
Thus, fides qua is dependent on fides quae but fides quae is also dependent on fides qua. A symbiotic relationship. But this cannot be, the process has to start somewhere, thou doth protest. That is another topic altogether and basically a “chicken or egg” riddle. Which came first? I cannot answer this riddle except to suggest the possibility that both may have come into existence simultaneously.
Things to ponder
If all this is true, then several questions are raised that are worth pondering. I will mention three:
- How much emphasis do you place on the fides qua (faith action) as opposed to fides quae (faith knowledge)? In evangelical circles much focus is given to the fides qua. People are encouraged to make sacrifices, take a stand and be active on a number of issues. A ‘good’ Christian will act on his/her faith. The issues themselves are often given only cursory treatment. A quick reading of the bible or a short blurb from the last sermon or a quick prayer time suffice to supply the fides quae (knowledge) for the fides qua (action). Is not the fides quae also important?
- Does God reward solely on the basis of fides qua? Is it not important what one believes? If only fides qua were important than doctrine becomes unimportant.
- If a leap of faith is required even in the areas of knowledge, should we not engage differing opinions with humility? Where and how can we draw the line between differences in faiths?