What is the opposite of faith?
A lot of people would say doubt. But that won’t do. There is, for sure, a kind of doubt that is entirely negative, which puts faith in jeopardy. But I suspect the main kind of doubt with which we are familiar is the kind that asks questions – and that won’t be fobbed off with unconvincing answers. This kind of doubt – Socratic doubt – is essential to a robust faith. A faith that isn’t interrogative isn’t worth having.
Perhaps, then, we could say that the opposite of faith is certainty. And if we understand certainty on the model of, say, mathematics, that is (certainly!) true. But there are other models on which we might draw. Friendship, for example. I think most of us would want to say that the faith I have in my best friend – my soul-mate – is certain. Here faith is kin to “trust” – which happens to be the predominant theological meaning of faith. Jesus calls us his friends (John 15:15). The martyrs are our mentors when it comes to the certainty of faith: the dubious don’t confess Christ at the stake.
I suppose I must mention a third possibility, namely, that the opposite of faith is reason, because the so-called New Atheists continue to swagger on that faith is irrational, that it is belief without evidence. Which in one sense is true, because God is not a member of the world who offers himself for observation. But in another sense it is patently false, at least for Christianity, which is dependent on the testimonies of witnesses to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. As for rationality, Karl Barth was once asked how reason fits into his theology. “I use it,” he replied. So does any sensible Christian.
I want to propose a fourth alternative for the opposite of faith. It’s one you don’t usually hear: cowardice. Conversely, on this reading, faith is courage. My text: Mark 4:35ff. A storm suddenly overwhelms the boat in which Jesus and his disciples are crossing the Sea of Galilee. While Jesus naps, his friends freak. They wake him, and he tells the wind and waves to be still. Then he turns on the twelve (as The Message translates): “Why are you such cowards? Don’t you have any faith at all?”
There is a lot of fear around in the church today. Fundamentalists are afraid of science. Traditionalists are afraid of change. Those who came to faith during the fag end of Christendom are anxious about secularism or alarmed about Islam. And not only local congregations but also national Churches are panicking about their very survival.
Jaroslav Pelikan said that if Christ is not risen, then nothing else matters; and that if Christ is risen – then nothing else matters. But Christ is risen. Christ reigns. Nothing can separate us from his love. That’s why we needn’t and shouldn’t be afraid. Keep the faith!