Have you ever set your heart on something so much that it changed your life? Maybe you learned for the first time that compounding interest can make you money - if you could just control your spending. Maybe you learned that home-grown vegetables taste a lot better than grocery store vegetables. Maybe you discovered that turning off the TV and talking with your family is a great thing to do.
Some ideas come into our heads and make such an impression that we are willing to do something about them. It may be that we start to save money, grow a garden, or communicate better. Or it might be something else entirely. Whatever the impression may be it involves a thought, a heart-felt desire, and a planned effort.
This is nothing new, what might come as a surprise is that the heart-felt desire is just another way of saying something that we have been misunderstanding for years - even centuries. In a religious sense this heartfelt desire is what we used to mean by the word faith.
This is easier to see if you know Latin. Take the word cardiologist, for example. Most of us recognize that this is a scientist or a doctor who works on the heart. Cardo, of course, means heart in Latin. It isn’t hard to see the similarity of this word with the Latin credo, which means faith. Our English word creed is also derived from credo. These two words, cardo and credo (heart and faith) come from the same place.
This is clearly a different understanding of faith than a mere passive belief in something. We may have a lot of ideas or rational beliefs about many things. But faith doesn’t happen until we set our hearts on one of them.
This relationship of faith and heartfelt desire is seen in the Book of Heleman (Chapter 3:34 - in the Book of Mormon):
“Nevertheless they did … [wax]… firmer and firmer in their faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto god.”
This understanding of faith may not be one that you have heard about before - and justifiably so. You won’t find it as a definition in any standard dictionary - at least not directly. But the earlier meaning is still there and occasionally comes through in certain words and phrases.
The most obvious are the words faithful and fidelity. These words convey a sense of being true but we use them about people we love. We are faithful to our spouse because of love. We demonstrate fidelity for the same reason. Simply put, faith is a virtue of the heart - not so much a virtue of the mind. If we have faith in someone, we have heartfelt feelings for them. Similarly, a true faith in Christ is not restricted to a simple rational belief in Him. It means that we love Him.
Consider all the references in the Old Testament to God’s jealousy. They often seem a bit odd. After all, jealousy is not a virtue and admitting that a supreme being could be guilty of this human frailty just doesn’t seem right.
But jealousy exists because love exists and the commandment to love God is the same thing as the commandment to have faith in Him. Unfortunately faith has lost much of this meaning. Today most of us think that faith just means believing - and this is doubly misleading. It’s misleading because the meaning of the word belief has itself changed. It also used to refer to setting one’s heart on something. Belief just like faith was all about the heart and not so much the mind.
This is obvious in German where I love you is expressed as Ich liebe dich. Love is liebe and comes from the same place as the lieve in our believe. The relationship is even more obvious in the old English verb belove.
This is significant. It is certainly more important than a mere academic insight. It changes the way we engage in public discourse about faith.
For example, today we often hear about people lacking faith or who don’t believe in God. Some of these people are professed atheists or hesitant agnostics. Their unbelief is a rational decision. Anciently this sort of thing was unthinkable.
Before modern times, God’s existence wasn’t questioned by anybody. What might be questioned was one’s devotion to Him. The first commandment is not to believe that God exists. It is to put no other gods before Him. In the New Testament, the Apostle James (in James 2:19) admits that it isn’t all that big of a deal to just acknowledge the existence of god. After all, even the devils acknowledge Him and tremble.
One of the most significant effects that atheism has had in recent times is to move the focus of faith from devotion to rational discourse. It has not only clouded our own religious lives, it has compromised our understanding of religious history.
Take the Reformation as an example, and the way we have interpreted it today. Viewed with a cardo and credo perspective, things are not the way we often make them out to be. The Reformation’s interpretation of faith in the New Testament is particularly informative.
Paul clearly taught that we are saved by faith. But he was also keen to point out the importance of living one’s faith. That this faith is grounded in cardo is quite clear in the Gospel of John where the bulk of the references to pisteuo (meaning faith or belief) are found. In fact there are almost as many references to pisteuo in John as in the three synoptic gospels combined.
And the way John uses the word faith is important too. Very often it is used as a verb and is focused on a person. John wanted us to have faith in Jesus Christ. It’s no mere coincidence that John is also the New Testament author keenest on love and the Holy Ghost. It is essentially impossible to read John without capturing a sense that faith in Christ is no faith at all if it excludes a heartfelt determination to follow Him.
Now fast-forward several hundred years to Medieval Europe. Martin Luther insists on sola fide (on faith alone) as the way of salvation. He sees parallels between the hypocrisy of Pharisaic rules and strict Catholicism and sees an unbridgeable gulf between this formalism and simple faith in Christ. But faith in 16th Century Europe is still grounded, at least in part, in cardo. There is an element of credo too and this nuance needs to be appreciated in our histories more than it has been.
Salvation through faith alone is one thing if we mean that salvation comes to those who rationally acknowledge Jesus to have been the Son of God. It is a very different thing altogether when it means that salvation comes to those who love God with all their heart, might, mind and strength. The former can be practically anybody - including insincere speculators. The later are true heirs of salvation. For this group there is no difference between faith and the first commandment.
But now fast-forward to the 21st Century. Our understanding of faith is almost always far removed from any sense of cardo. Those who profess faith very often feel obligated to justify their lack of knowledge in the next breath - as if faith and knowledge were somehow incompatible.
Here it is worth noticing the important distinction between knowing someone (for example the Spanish conocer) and knowing something (Spanish saber). Knowing things is the hallmark of our technological world. It is a world of facts. Ironically it is also a world of constantly changing certainties and perspectives. This is not the kind of knowledge on which one places a foundational faith.
Knowing people and human motivation, however, is different, especially as it involves an understanding of human nature and the reality of good and evil. Such knowledge can be existential. This is the kind of knowledge that one can rely on if, in fact, the person relied upon is faithful - is trustworthy. This is a knowledge that is based in faith.
Suppose, for example, a new corporate executive requires one of her VP’s to close a deal in Las Vegas. She sends the man with the most experience but also realizes that the surroundings may be a problem if he gets distracted. In the end she sends him off with a faith that borders on anxious worry. This is how we understand faith today.
Now consider the woman living several blocks away – the wife of the chosen VP. She has lived with her husband for 30 years. They have experienced the ups and downs of life together. They have raised a family and enjoy nothing more than spending time together with their children and grandchildren. They are very devoted to each other and consistently strengthen their relationship with daily conversations, nightly pillow talk, and weekly dates. This woman sends her husband off to Las Vegas with a kiss and a smile and doesn’t even think to question his loyalty. She has a faith in him that is based on existential knowledge.
Not too many people have this kind of faith in God. This is a great loss. It was the way our forefathers understood faith. This was the “faith of our Fathers.” Today we live in a world where more people believe in the stock market than they do in God. People are willing to gamble on uncertainty while living in a world of trivial facts. This is the farthest thing from a world of faith - a world of cardo and credo.
In the world of long ago many people changed their lives because of Who they believed in - because of faith. It is long past due for us to set our hearts upon Him again. There is nothing more important for us to know.
Smith, Wilford Cantwell. 1979. Faith and Belief. Princeton University Press. 347 pp.