Faith, Trust and Understanding: the Biblical view


What comes first, faith or understanding (reason). God created both. So, which is the cart, and which the horse, which comes first? Is it true that credo ut intelligam – I believe that I may understand? and  fides quaerens intellectum (“faith seeking understanding”). (Anselm of Canterbury). Would it be more correct to say that I don’t believe IN Jesus but simply BELIEVE him? No, because it is both. Similarly, a believing Jew, I suggest, believes in God as well as believes God. What is important is that believing logically precedes believing in (trust). There is no need to prove his Emunah (belief and trust). “In the beginning” (Genesis 1:1) should be enough, and if not, then the man doesn’t have, according to Martin Buber, a genuine biblical bone in his body. “Biblical man, says Martin Buber, is never in doubt to the existence of God. In professing his faith, his EMUNAH*, he merely expresses his trust that the living God is near to him as he was to Abraham and that he entrusts himself to Him” (“Two types of faith” 1962).

Scripture comes alive because God gives it life, and thus it is God who opens the eyes that we may understand. This opening of the eyes is faith. One spends the rest of one’s life adjusting the eyes to the light, keeping in mind that in His light we see the light (Psalm 36:9). What a contrast to Dylan Thomas’ “Rage against the dying of the light” do we find in “Who hath put wisdom in the inward parts.. who hath given understanding to the heart? (Job 38:36). *EMUNAH comprises both Assensus (belief in the sense of mental assent) and Fiducia (trust, personal commitment).

Here is an example of a Jewish misunderstanding of Christian “belief.” In Rabbi Moshe Shulman’s anti-Christian commentary on Isaiah 53, which he considers “the fullest explanation and discussion of the subject that now exists anywhere,” he says: “To receive this atonement one must believe that this death was for that purpose. You may be familiar with the doctrine, and know that people believe it, but if you don’t believe in it, then you are not saved.” A Christian apologist comments: “This statement comes somewhat closer to the truth. Yet, it needs correction and completion. For if one merely believes that Jesus’ death was for the purpose of atonement, he will not receive that atonement. Only the rebirth, which has faith as a result, is sufficient. One has not merely to believe the doctrine of atonement in general, but also has to appropriate it, that is, trust in it. Not merely ‘Christ has died for sinners,’ but also ‘Christ has died for me, and has atoned for me’.” (See also Assensus and Fiducia).