Q: I want to have faith, but I am having trouble. The reasons for believing in God seem so arbitrary and so silly. They all seem to come down to "just because I say so." I am a regular reader, but I hope you can do better. Is there a reason to believe? — Anonymous
A: Thanks for an easy question! Let's begin by asking what is the difference between a child and a parent? I used to think the difference was that children have no money and parents do. Nowadays, I'm not so sure. What I think now is that the difference between kids and parents is what they consider to be a good reason to do or not do something. When I was a kid, I thought that the very worst reason my folks would give me was "Just because I say so!" Now I think and, particularly after reading your question, believe that the way to faith is by appreciating what we derisively call blind faith.
All faith is based on trust, which is not the same thing as truth. I can know absolutely the truth of a mathematical equation, but I can only trust that the Lord is my shepherd. That trust in God's love for me and God's protecting my soul is deep and powerful, but I do not feel the need to push that trust into the realm of truth.
In Hebrew the word for faith is emunah, which has as its root meaning not in "truth" but "trust." Jews, Christians and Muslims do not say at the conclusion of a prayer, Emet, which means what I just said is true. We say Amen, which means what I just said is trustworthy.
The way into faith is not to go searching for a list of true statements but rather a list of trustworthy statements. If you can say that you trust that there is a higher power in the universe than you alone, you are on your way. If you can say that you trust that your spiritual journey does not end at the edge of the grave, then you are there.
Blind faith works because of the record of sacred history. The Bible, for example, often introduces a commandment with this phrase: "You have seen what the Lord your God has done for you by bringing you out of the house of bondage and so now therefore I command you." We cannot always understand the law, but we can always trust the God who gave it. The past record of God's miracles, like the Exodus for Jews or the resurrection for Christians, are reasons to trust, reasons for faith.
Another reason for blind faith is its effect on the faithful. When you see people like the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa or the saint Padre Pio, it is immediately clear that faith gave them wisdom, serenity and compassion. It is not impossible to find serene and luminous atheists, but the wide example of people of faith is not just inspiring, it is convincing.
Yet another reason for blind faith is its antiquity. It is comforting to know that a faith is thousands of years old and that over such a span it has successfully shaped and directed millions of people's spiritual journeys. This is not to say that faiths cannot grow, learn and evolve, just that "new and improved" may be high praise for soap and cereal, but not for wisdom. Hinduism is more than 5,000 years old, Judaism almost 4,000 years old. Christianity is 2,000 years old. That is old, and that is comforting. When somebody tries to sell you something that just got thought up last month, it might be wise to move back a few thousand years.
Most of my teachers were rationalists and many shared your questions about faith. Like you, many of them kept waiting for a reason to believe that never appeared. But one of my teachers was extraordinary. She was an older woman who called herself Dawn of Santa Fe, and I met her on the beach in Malibu, California. She collected and sold paint-can lids that she turned into works of art and billboards for little bits of wisdom.
When I approached, she picked up a painted lid and looked at me with eyes that covered an old soul. She said, "This is for you." On the lid she had painted this:
"When you have come to the edge of all the light you know; and are about to step off the cliff into the unknown; faith is knowing one of two things will happen, there will be something solid to stand on … or … you will be taught how to fly!"
God bless you in your flying lessons.