When should we take a leap of faith?
This is a really common question with some everyday relevance — most of our important decisions in life involve a leap of faith. The decision to take a job, to date someone or get married, develop a new friend group, take an elective class or pursue a new major — these all involve a leap of faith that things will turn out for the better.
After a few years of dating my wife, I was trying really hard to figure out whether or not I should ask her to marry me. I loved her. I moved to a different state to live geographically closer to her. She helped me grow as a person — in patience, kindness, and understanding. There was no doubt that I was better off with her than without her — I was even starting to like vegetables and salad!
But the commitment of a lifetime seemed almost overwhelming at times. How was I supposed to know for sure? How could I achieve absolute certainty? What was the fail-proof formula for this kind of a decision?
Eventually, it was only after taking a look in the mirror that I could see I was already moving in the direction of marrying her. I was living life as if this was the right thing to do. The eventual conversations about marriage and proposal were merely the conscious acknowledgement of the reality already emerging from our relationship. Even so, marriage was definitely a leap of faith.
So what about faith, itself? When is it right to take a leap of faith in a relationship with God? Belief rests on trust, so what does trust in God look like? No one wants to look foolish, or build their life on a pipe-dream, so what does certainty mean when it comes to faith?
These are the same questions being asked by some professors at Notre Dame right now. After digesting some of their insights, I’m walking away with three conclusions about taking a leap of faith.
Leaps of faith are not scientific, but they are ultimately reasonable
We cannot prove to someone beyond all doubt that we love them. In a way, isn’t this actually kind of shocking? Love, the very bedrock of relationships, is fundamentally unprovable. We can share evidence of our love, but there is no absolute proof to definitively demonstrate love.
What can be proven beyond doubt, for example, is the hypotenuse of a right-triangle or the circumference of a circle. Logic and reason can give us certainty in these questions. But relationships are not mathematics — they are a different (and deeper) kind of reality. Even though relationships are based on evidence, belief, and trust, they always fall short of hard demonstrations of proof.
In the scientific age that we live in, we can achieve truly amazing things. But the possibility for definitive proof in the scientific realm has also instilled in us an unrealistic desire to find this kind of proof and certainty in all areas of our lives. This includes how we think about God.
It is really important to ask when we should take a spiritual leap of faith, but if we wait around for the wrong kind of proof or evidence, then we are going to be disappointed — that kind of criteria won’t even help us prove that someone loves us, let alone find belief or trust in God.
Reasonable leaps of faith are rooted in an openness to belief and some level of trust. This is a part of everyday human existence, and just because we can’t see or measure trust in a formula doesn’t mean it’s foolish to follow it.
Leaps of faith should reflect the circumstances of one’s life
In one period of my life, I remember reflecting on the fact that there are so many religions around the world. This was a bit of an existential crisis: to make an informed decision about my faith, I would have to review the beliefs of every religion and then make a rational choice about which belief system to pursue. For me, this was definitely going to involve lots of spreadsheets.
Looking back, I understand why this was troubling to me — it was never going to be a sustainable mentality. It was never going to be in the cards for me to move to Tibet and become a Buddhist monk. This wasn’t me being irrational or lazy — it was about being realistic. Our experiences of life, love, and commitment are rooted in people and places, and religious practices reflect this lived reality.
An enriching spirituality doesn’t disconnect us from our lived reality. Rather, it roots us ever-deeper in the experiences of daily life because that’s where God speaks to us. We don’t have a relationship with an abstract idea about God — we have a relationship with a living being, and we discover Him in the particularities of everyday life and everyday relationships.
I used to worry that limiting my search to my own experience would prevent me from finding the truth. Perhaps that is a valid concern in intellectual pursuits, but I’ve learned that seeking concrete, particular, specific encounters doesn’t limit spirituality — it animates our relationship with God (and any other kind of relationship). My daily experience is where those relationships become real. If I look instead to abstractions, I’ll never find a concrete path for my leap of faith to follow.
Religious leaps of faith are rooted in community
Faith is not an individualistic practice — it is a communal practice. And that’s not unusual. Take, for example, cheering for your local sports team or being a committed fan of the performing arts — these are communal commitments. These are profoundly personal commitments, too, but they also connect us with other people. The way one lives out being a Vikings fan, for example, is informed by the way other people support (or grieve) the Vikes. The same is true of religion, and it’s beautiful.
Watching other people whom I love, respect, and admire take leaps of faith on a daily basis inspires me to do the same. We all live out our faith a little differently, and that’s for the better. Religious practice does not mean we are headed for bland uniformity — healthy faith communities are beautiful in their diversity, forming a radiant tapestry of shared commitments, support, and openness to the God who is love.
When I find myself in a difficult place spiritually, I look to a community of people who can remind me of God’s love. They reveal to me that I’m not on this journey of faith alone. Many have traversed this path before me — and many are heroic figures and models. Again and again, I rediscover God by taking this leap of faith — in all its communal commitments and its personal uniqueness.