What is faith?
“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” So says the Letter to the Hebrews (Hebrews 11:1).
Do you have any doubt that various cities around the world exist, even though you have not actually walked in them? Moscow, Katmandu, Tokyo? And, can you make plans for dinner with a friend if you suspect that s/he is just a figment of your imagination? No. So, you have a conviction of things (or persons) not seen. You have faith.
This is a first answer, a ground level meaning of the word faith, a simple one. We can say “God exists,” but others might reply, “so what? I believe my spleen exists, but so what?” So, maybe there is more than a simple belief that “God exists.”
That “more” might mean relationship.
You have assurance that a friend will be loyal to you, will be true to the promise contained in friendship. You have faith that your relationship with your friend will not expire.
This is a higher level of faith.
It includes doubt as well. There are moments when it feels like a trusted friend has turned away from you. Such moments are terrible. Some people avoid close relationships altogether just for fear of this kind of a betrayal!
Understandable as such fear is, all of us need gradually and prudently to open ourselves up to deeper friendships. We need and want to love and be loved and it takes time to learn how. Hurt does not have to mean cancellation.
We see a third level of faith in the First Reading. The prophet Habbakuk witnesses a lot of harm and speaks to God with great emotion.
How long, O Lord? I cry for help but you do not listen. Why do you let me see ruin? Why must I look at misery?
Maybe Habbakuk did not know that hurt can be part of a good relationship. He demands to know how the Lord could be so unmoved. Surprisingly, God answers, in a lengthy and encouraging reply. “The vision still has its time,” he says, it “presses on to fulfillment, and it will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come.”
However, the stumbling block in this level is “wait for it.” God will make things better but not yet. Our insides scream “Not yet! What are you talking about? Why don’t you help us right now? Why are you delaying and giving suffering such a feast?”
The apostles say roughly the same thing to Jesus in the Gospel:
Increase our faith!
What is the Lord’s answer? It surely seems like delay, delay, delay.
But, in truth, God is using delay as a way of increasing our faith.
What if we are not yet ready for the depth of God's answers? What if we are not quite ready for true relationship? God brings us along until we become ready for more.
According to Jesus it does not matter how much faith you have, a car-load or a teaspoon-full. Stay in there and the remainder will come, he says.