I’ve recently been struck by the number of talks that are about the effort required to maintain faith, as if the act of having faith is not natural; it’s something that must be willed into existence and constantly worked at, like a garden or personal grooming. The idea is that doubt is the natural state that will take over if one does not remain in a constant state of action, always watching for nature to take over, always ready to attack anything that might erode your little faith garden.

When did this become the discourse around faith? I seem to remember growing up with the idea that faith was normal, a byproduct of appreciating the natural world, of gratitude, of family relationships based on love. Eons ago when I was in Primary, we sang a lot of songs about the beauty of nature and that it was evidence of God’s hand in all things. This appears to be a completely different psychology of faith being discussed now.

One small off-shoot of this mindset that faith requires work and effort (not works, which is the standard Christian discussion) is that unbelief prevents blessings from occuring. This also feels like a slightly foreign concept to me, more like God as vending machine or the prosperity gospel, that if you are good and obedient, you’ll get material blessings and riches. I’ve also often noted that if you are a believer and good things happen to you, you recognize those as faith-affirming. You see them as coming from God, to whom you give thanks. But it’s a big step from that to the idea that you can demand or expect blessings as evidence of God’s approval, or the lack therof as evidence of divine disfavor.

If you are a believer and bad things happen to you, you don’t necessarily attribute those to God, but your faith comforts you in a bigger picture sense. Mortality is challenging, but there’s more to life than this earthly existence. Your faith gives you hope. It helps you endure the difficulties. It may give you a fatalistic or sanguine view of the trial you are enduring.

But good and bad things happen to both good and bad people. That’s how human life on planet earth works. So, for blessings to be evidence of one’s own standing is clearly not accurate. It’s just a way to feel like you’re in control or God’s in control or things that are meaningless have meaning.

“for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good,and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”

Matthew 5:45

Why do some believe and some do not? I’m really not sure. It feels to me like a personality trait in many cases. Some people are more prone to believe in God, to have faith. Some just don’t find that belief as compelling.

I often think to the final scene of the 1970s Burt Reynolds movie, The End, in which he has spent the entire movie trying to kill himself and failing, until he has swum much too far out in the ocean and he is in real danger of drowning. Suddenly he wants to live and starts crying out to God to save him, making big promises about how much of his life he will devote to God if he gets out alive. The closer he gets to shore, the smaller the percentage becomes until at last he says “Nevermind, God, I’ve got this.” The deal is off, even though ostensibly he was saved from death. Did God save him or did he swim his way out? Either way, it was the act of being in extreme distress that brought his belief in God to the forefront.

So, based on my observations, faith comes primarily from 1) extreme distress, or 2) personality or temperament. This is why I don’t see how you can “work” your way into stronger faith.

  • Why do you think faith comes naturally to some and not to others?
  • Are there other examples you can think of that create faith or a desire to believe in people who don’t otherwise have it?
  • Do you believe faith requires effort and work to maintain it or is faith a natural state?
  • Do you think Church teachings on this have changed over time or have both types of teaching always existed side by side, depending on who is teaching?