“As the essence of courage is to stake one’s life on a possibility, so the essence of faith is to believe that the possibility exists” (William Salter).
BELIEF IS THE WILLINGNESS TO ACCEPT UNSEEN REALITIES, NOT ONLY IN SPIRITUAL MATTERS BUT ALSO IN THOSE THAT ARE MORE MUNDANE. And not only does it accept them in the safety of the library, belief is willing to stake its life on the truth of its convictions — out there on the front lines where the consequences of being wrong are huge. It doesn’t do this blindly or foolishly, but the fact remains, it does do it. To believe is (1) to be sure that a particular possibility exists, and (2) to take a real stand, based on that surety.
First of all, let it be said that we do need to be careful in judging the evidence. Richard Whately, who wrote so powerfully on the idea of belief, offered this caution: “As one may bring himself to believe almost anything he is inclined to believe, it makes all the difference whether we begin or end with the inquiry, ‘What is truth?’ ”
But if some people are too gullible, others are too cynical. In reacting against blind, uncritical belief, let’s not overreact and refuse to believe anything at all. Belief is not a vice but a virtue, a character trait that opens the door to many of the best things this world has to offer. So let’s be people who are willing to believe when belief is called for.
If you’re a person who won’t accept anything without empirical evidence, then you’ve made a choice that will limit you severely before you die. If the only thing real for you is what you can “see,” you won’t have rich relationships and the legacy you leave won’t be worthy. Before you go any further, you’d do well to think about J. F. Clarke’s observation: “All the strength and force of man comes from his faith in things unseen . . . Strong convictions precede great actions.”
For the time being, the truly great realities almost always fall into the realm of “possibilities.” But what shall we do: back away from the evidence, retreat into the cramped cave of what we “know,” and simply wait for the end to come? No, we can be much bolder than that. When there is reason to believe, we can be willing to believe. And acting on the basis of belief, we can move from mere living to real life.
“Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact” (William James).