Christians talk a lot about faith, whether laymen, pastors, philosophers, or theologians. To be a Christian is to live by faith. But what does that mean?
I'd like to draw a distinction in the nature of faith. The hope of heaven is a central feature in Christian piety. We sing hymns that celebrate heavenly-mindedness.
Suppose you have a dying loved one. It might be a younger relative with terminal cancer, or an older relative who's succumbing to old age. Or children born with cystic fibrosis, who have a grim long-term prognosis.
Christians take comfort in the prospect of postmortem reunion with loved ones. And, in a sense, that's an act of faith. And it's something that Christians ought to believe and take solace in.
Yet it's very different when the loved one actually dies. Ai long as they remain alive, so long as you still have them in your life, faith in postmortem reunion is an abstraction. A distant idea. Your belief may be genuine, but it's like a rain check you haven't cashed. Something in reserve for when you need it.
It's only after you lose them that you really have to exercise faith. You don't have to put faith in something that's right in front of you. You can't. But once they're gone, there's a sense in which, for the first time, you must exercise faith in what you believed. Only then can you act on faith, in that existential sense.
That's the hard part. Why doesn't God take the pain away? Because, without the painful situation, there'd be no pressing occasion to exercise faith.