When our system of belief breaks

Faith can show up in our will to overcome difficult circumstances
Faith can show up in our will to overcome difficult circumstances

Could faith be a matter of instinct, beyond logic?

His eyes were starting to close and his head was starting to fall.  It was a genuine emergency and we were not going to take chances.  So, we called 911 from the living room floor, holding our toddler, and hope, close to our chest.  We heard the sirens in minutes and walked out to the street where we met the ambulance.  Then, it was off to the hospital where, after giving him some medication, it was a waiting game to see if the symptoms would subside.

Today, our son is fine.  He is totally himself - not listening to his parents and doing whatever he wants.  We are far away from such moments of crisis.  But, thinking back, it is clear to me that there really are times in life when things are literally a blur; logic is not a factor and we act solely on instinct.  Yet, even as such, faith can still be in play in the situation as well as our decision-making.  How?  Well, faith can show up in our will to win.

The point of belief and faith

We have to set aside for a second the usual arguments that people have about the content of our beliefs.  It’s not that they are not important; it’s that we can go a level or two deeper than that.  By that, I mean we need to consider for a minute what is the purpose of belief itself.  At the risk of some oversimplification, I believe that the function of believing in anything is to help us predict the future and take action within reasonable expectations about it.

For example, we have to believe that people who are driving on a straight road will continue to drive straight.  That is the way that we decide how we ourselves will drive.  If they veer off and fail to follow the direction of the lines, they violate our belief.  Our expectation of the future, and the actions that we take, must adapt accordingly.  I know that this is just a single case that I am mentioning here.  But, it demonstrates the mechanics of how we live interdependently and socially - this is what we do many times a day.

Sometimes, though, our system of beliefs breaks.  This happens when our predictions about the future turn out to be inaccurate or our expectations are unfulfilled.  It is no surprise, for example, that people are so hurt when they realize that God will not prohibit anything bad from happening in their life.  At that point, we are confronted with a choice: do we succumb to our disappointment and leave things as-is? Or do we reconstruct our system of beliefs so that we can continue to move ahead in life?

Faith is the desire for our system of beliefs to help us take action that go beyond the limits of our current reality.  We do not have beliefs in order for us to be okay with our reality - we do so that we can imagine how our reality may be transformed, ultimately more closely resembling our beliefs.  And, if faith is desire, then it is dynamic by its very nature.  So, it takes effect in, between, and integrative of both our system of beliefs as well as our reality.  In other words, faith is how hope is maintained and love is put into action in our life.

When faith takes over

Scientists will listen to the story about myself and my son and what they will correctly point out is that what took hold inside of me was a fight or flight response.  In summary, that is the kind of response that comes out in situations of danger and a person must decide to either escape from or engage in a stressful situation.  This is something natural to people which some call, “the will to survive.”  But, I think that there is something more to it than that.

“Fight or flight,” explains how I was able to stay awake and coherent the whole time.  It was definitely tough.  What I did not mention was that, just prior to calling 911, my spouse and I spent hours preparing for the special occasion (a birthday party for our youngest child) when the incident occurred.  We were tired.  Also, we were in the Emergency Room until about 2:00AM when they had to transfer us by ambulance to another hospital because they did not have room for us.  Yes, the whole time, I was, “wired,” because the odds of our toddler surviving were greater if I was awake.

Still, as much as I did my best to help our toddler stay alive, what I had in my mind the whole time was a desire for our life to get better as a whole.  That desire, in “fight or flight,” is not necessary.  Survival does not have to mean better.  It just means that we would have to stay alive.  And, that is why I believe that what our ordeal revealed inside was not only, “the will to survive,” but also, “the will to win.”

This is the point at which faith takes over as the strongest part of our instincts, enabling us to break the limits of our current reality by allowing us to imagine a new reality, even if it were to be one in the future, towards which we are compelled to take action to build.

Beyond getting through

Have you felt a little defeated at all recently?

If there were to be a time in human history for all of us throughout the whole world to feel like we are not winning, this would be that time.  Many have been saying that, “it is okay to not be okay.”  Yes, it definitely is.  And, we would not be alone in feeling that way, at all.  But, I believe that we cannot stay this way.

On the one hand, we sure do have to, “get through,” whatever difficulty it is that we might be experiencing.  We must survive.

At the same time, we must also, “get to” a destination that is beyond the avoidance of pain, the escape from difficulty, and the minimization of risk.

What it means for us to live with faith - to endure not for its own sake but for a greater purpose - is for us to take a deep breath for one moment to not consider, but become acutely aware of, what it is that we desire in and out of life itself.

Do you have it now?


Then, let’s go.

James J. Kang is Head of Guidance and Co-Founder of PASTORIA, a ministry innovation consultancy, and an alum of Claremont School of Theology.