Three kinds of faith
By John Taylor; 2008 Nov 01, 17 'Ilm 165 BE
For many years I tried and failed to find chapter and verse for a definition of faith that the Guardian gave. I remembered it as "instant, exact and complete obedience." That is nowhere in the Writings. Last night, as I was doing some housework in my filing system, I came across what I think I was looking for. It does not use those exact words, but it is so close that I am convinced that it has to be what I had in mind. Here is the complete quote:
"But one word of warning must be uttered in this connection. Let us be on our guard lest we measure too strictly the Divine Plan with the standard of men. I am not prepared to state that it agrees in principle or in method with the prevailing notions now uppermost in men's minds, nor that it should conform with those imperfect, precarious, and expedient measures feverishly resorted to by agitated humanity."
"Are we to doubt that the ways of God are not necessarily the ways of man? Is not faith but another word for implicit obedience, whole-hearted allegiance, uncompromising adherence to that which we believe is the revealed and express will of God, however perplexing it might first appear, however at variance with the shadowy views, the impotent doctrines, the crude theories, the idle imaginings, the fashionable conceptions of a transient and troublous age? If we are to falter or hesitate, if our love for Him should fail to direct us and keep us within His path, if we desert Divine and emphatic principles, what hope can we any more cherish for healing the ills and sicknesses of this world?" (letter written by Shoghi Effendi to the Baha'is in America on 23 February 1924, in Baha'i Administration, p. 62)
This, it seems to me, is a good corrective to the common Baha'i definition of faith as knowledge followed by action.
Yes, faith is a kind of knowledge, but it has to be a higher kind of knowing, one independent of and even contradictory of outer, superficial, worldly knowledge. This is why the first and greatest philosopher was able to say without self contradiction, "I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance." (Socrates, quoted by Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers) He still knew something even though he knew better than any other in Athens that he did not know. He somehow knew holistically, beyond what any one mind can contain at any one time.
Faith indeed is defined by at least one present-day authority as inherently holistic: "an attitude of the entire self, including both will and intellect, directed toward a person, an idea, or -- as in the case of religious faith -- a divine being." (Encarta Encyclopaedia) This source mentions that when Paul, in Hebrews (11:1) defines faith as, "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen," he used the Greek word "Pistis," meaning an act of giving one's trust. To trust, then, is to obey, but not just anybody. It has to be someone worthy of trust.
Socrates knew that he did not know, but he had faith. He was aware that what knowledge or right opinion he did attain to must have come from beyond, from what he called his daemon. We all have a daemon, and we show good faith if we follow, bad faith if we rebel against it. In that sense, then, faith is nothing more than, in the Guardian's words, "implicit obedience, wholehearted allegiance and uncompromising adherence" to the revealed will of God. Any spirit of rebellion must be smothered immediately before it replicates and burns down the entire edifice of faith.
"Insolence, more than a fire, must be extinguished. (Heraclitus, fr. 43)
Faith then, is giving trust to what is most worthy of trust, to God, the Holy Spirit and His inerrant Manifestation. Abdu'l-Baha, speaking at the Theosophical Society in England, distinguished no fewer than three kinds of faith. One faith is imitative, the second understanding and the third action. Only the third involves "implicit obedience" to truth; that is the only faith that will make us sons of God.
How can one increase in faith?
You must strive. A child does not know, in learning he obtains knowledge. search (sic) for Truth.
There are three kinds of Faith: first, that which is from tradition and birth. For example: a child is born of Muhammadan parents, he is a Muhammadan. This faith is weak traditional faith: second, that which comes from Knowledge, and is the faith of understanding. This is good, but there is a better, the faith of practice. This is real faith.
We hear there is an invention, we believe it is good; then we come and see it. We hear that there is wealth, we see it; we work hard for it, and become rich ourselves and so help others. We know and we see the Light, we go close to it, are warmed by it, and reflect its rays on others; this is real faith, and thus we receive power to become the eternal sons of God.
from Abdu'l-Baha in London, 64-65