The most rational faith

You are the most faithful person you know. That is not a poorly worded question. That is a fact. You and I are full of faith. We base our entire lives on faith – on trust. We do not go 5 minutes in a day without actively staking every decision we make on faith. It is our foundation. Nothing we do falls outside of our faith – our belief in the trustworthiness of something.

Of course, it is important to ask ourselves the question: Exactly WHAT are we putting all this faith in?

After all, there are many many things that require our faith: the loyalty of friends (and even family), the competency of my car manufacturer (and mechanic), the alertness and skillfulness of other drivers on the road, the quality control of the food I buy at the grocery store. Nearly everything we do in life requires us to have faith – to put our trust in someone or something else. Nowhere is this more true than in the financial marketplace.

Recently, an article in the Economist brought this very point to light:

“Much in modern economics is taken on trust. Even the most basic goods depend on complex links between suppliers strewn across the globe. The glue that binds the whole system together is trust—trust that suppliers will deliver the right goods on time; trust that payments will duly pass down the supply chain. That raises a question: What makes people who might not even lend to their neighbors happy to lend their life savings to unknown borrowers whom they will never meet? Put it like that, and the surprise is not that there are sometimes periodic panics, but that there are so few of them.”

Gary A. Anderson, in a piece titled Faith & Finance published in First Things, explains how closely linked religious-type faith and standard banking practices really are.

Most of us think of trust as an interior spiritual disposition. But, linguistically, faith and finance are closely linked: It is no accident that the word creditor in English comes from the Latin credere, “to believe.” When creditors make loans, they are acting on a belief in the trustworthiness of a client. German is even clearer: The word for belief, glaube, is nearly identical with the term for creditor, gläubiger.

He goes on to write:

In other words, the depositors must trust the bank, and the bank must trust that its loans have a good chance of being repaid. Bankers must be believers in those to whom they issue loans…. The banking industry is embedded in a vast web of belief.

Consider the very dollar bills we carry around in our wallets:

We are accustomed to believing that financial instruments such as dollars or euros are real. But how real is money? A dollar bill is nothing other than a promissory note. If the government prints too many of them, the value will sink. In accepting a dollar as payment, one is showing considerable faith in the secretary of the treasury.

Anderson goes on to make other important points in his article (which you can read in its entirety here), however, as I was reading it I was struck by the sheer amount of faith that I have in all kinds of things. I simply assume the banking system will work properly and the money I am (slowly) putting away for retirement will be there – and there will be more of it than I put in – when I need it. What is that faith based on? What makes that faith reasonable?

Likewise, on what do I base my faith in other people not to cheat me, or the food someone else prepares for me not to make me sick? My life is built on a mountain of faith. How much of that faith is sure? How much is secure? How much is trustworthy?

Of course I am not proposing that we all quit having faith. We need faith. Faith is necessary and good. Another insightful comment in Anderson’s article was, “In all things, one must have faith for the flourishing of human life.” True.

Instead of abandoning our trust in the banking system, other people, or everything else we put our faith in everyday, we should use the realization that we cannot avoid having faith as a chance to ask ourselves the question: what is the best kind of faith to have? If I must have faith (and we all must), what makes the most sense to put my faith in? What is the safest bet, the surest thing, the guarantee? Which kind of faith is the most reasonable, the most rational?

The Bible is crystal clear regarding the safest bet, the surest thing, the most reasonable faith:

Matthew 6:19-20

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.

Psalm 111:7-8

The works of his hands are faithful and just;
all his precepts are trustworthy;
they are established forever and ever,
to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.

Rev. 21:5

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I lam making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

You and I have options. Our option is NOT whether or not we will put our faith in something. We will. We must. We were designed to. The option is WHAT, or more appropriately WHO, we will choose to really bank on, to really trust in, to truly believe.

May our prayer be the same as the apostles in Luke 17:5:

“Lord, Increase our faith!”

Amen.

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