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Signposts: Daily Devotions

Written by Susan Hanson

Monday, November 16

Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God.”
—Mark 11:22

More than once I’ve heard it said that “faith is a verb,” that it’s something we do and not something we possess. Consequently, when we talk about having faith, we’re not getting the meaning quite right.

I’ll buy this, up to a point. [Some time ago] on a blog called "Language Log," linguist and NPR commentator Geoff Nunberg responded to a fellow blogger who took issue with the word being used that way. 

Said Nunberg, “Boy, what literalists we linguists can be. No, faith isn't really a verb . . . . But can we cut people a little slack here?” As Nunberg put it, the principle that permits faith to be used as a verb is “the same device that allowed Dwight Bolinger to say, in one of my favorite linguistic epigrams, ‘Words are not things, but activities.’”

I understand what Nunberg means, but I’d like to pose yet another alternative: What if faith were neither just an action, nor just something that we possess? What if it were, instead, a place? Strange as it may sound, this is the usage that comes closest to my own interpretation of the word.

When we live in faith, we are, in a sense, living in God. Whether out of desire or desperation, we enter a space where normal human logic simply doesn’t work. Like astronauts orbiting the earth, we feel strangely out of place, but never more at home.

Faith does not require that we ask no questions or that we adhere to a particular creed. It does not eliminate the need for study or rational thought, and it doesn’t promise that we’ll never feel insecure. What it does demand is that we willingly live with paradox and tension—with the possibility that our deepest knowledge of God will come when we are ready to give up this knowledge altogether.

Ultimately, faith rests on our consent to being held by the gravitational pull of God. We can break away if we like, but our hearts will know that this is where we belong.

O God, help me to realize that no questions, no doubts, no conflicts can ever stand in the way of living in faith in you.

These Signposts were originally published on in 2005.