“Bran thought about it. ‘Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?’
‘That is the only time a man can be brave,’ his father told him.”
-George R.R. Martin
Like bravery, faith is not the absence of doubt and questioning. It is the decision to move forward in spite of and even because of doubt. Some would call this foolishness, but those who understand faith in this way are living according to reason in pursuit of truth.
Faith is neither unreasonable nor a matter apart from reasoning. Reason precedes faith. We can know something to be true with our intellect only (e.g. today is Sunday), but faith is a step beyond the simple knowing of factual information. It is a leap into the unknown which involves the whole of a person’s being. It is a an affirmation with our whole life that something is true even if it cannot be definitively proven to be so. It is trust in a principle, an ideal, a person. It is the assurance that we will not be disappointed if we live according to what we affirm.
If we know something to be true beyond doubt, then it is not a matter touched by faith. We do not profess, “I have faith that today is Sunday,” or “I believe that objects in motion tend to stay in motion until acted upon by an outside force.” These things can be proven; they are facts and there is very little room to doubt or question them. Faith enters the picture when something is unable to be proven. Faith is subjective. It is something which must be embraced by the individual for him- or herself and by nobody else on their behalf.
“I believe in God.” This is a statement of faith. Who can prove that God does or does not exist? Who can demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt what attributes this being possesses? We can make arguments and arrive at reasonable conclusions which appear to be consistent with our experience and empirical observations, but nobody can prove or disprove the existence and nature of God to the extent that most would agree on the conclusion.
Why, then, should we have faith at all if faith cannot be demonstrated to be factual? As stated above, faith and reason are connected although they do not overlap. Before taking the step of believing in something, we must first understand what we are to believe. We must ask questions of the object of our belief. What evidence is there that this is true? The object of faith is not something irrational. Belief in something we made up on the spot is not a proper subject of faith. Reason must bring us to the precipice of faith from which we make our leap. First comes searching, questioning, and using our intellect to explain the object of faith as clearly as possible. Next comes faith. Belief before reason is not faith. Belief explained by reason is not faith. Only belief which has been informed by reason and is entered into with our whole selves by going beyond reason can properly be called faith.
So then what is doubt? Doubt is the natural result of applying reason to the object of our faith. If the object of faith cannot possibly be proven, then we must have unresolved questions even while we take the leap of faith. To be clear, we have been talking about faith as a leap, but this does not mean that faith is irrevocable or a single motion only. Faith is the continuing trust that we place in the object of faith. It may waver or fail. Faith is never the absence of doubt, but rather the embrace of doubt with the resolve to move forward rather than stagnating until we hold absolute proof. If we wait to prove the object of faith, then we will never have faith. If we believe without ever questioning or allowing doubt to have its place, then we never had faith in the first place.
We must then conclude that in order to have true faith, we must also have true doubt. Since faith depends on reason leading us to an object of faith which cannot be proven, unresolved questions must necessarily exist. Can a person have faith if they doubt? That is the only time a person can have faith.