We don’t just “have faith.” We have faith in stuff.

Faith can’t stand alone. It always needs a person or thing to have faith in.

You know what a transitive verb is? You might remember, from high school; most don’t. Transitive means you can’t use the verb by itself: There’s gotta be someone or something you’re doing the verb to. You can’t just say, “I wet”—you gotta indicate what you wet. A towel? Your whistle? The bed? Your pants? “I wet” (unless you mean “I [am] wet,” in which case wet isn’t the verb) doesn’t work otherwise. You need an object.

Well, that’s how faith works. Faith is transitive. You can’t just say, “I have faith” or “I trust”—you gotta indicate what you have faith in, you gotta indicate whom you trust.

True, plenty of people don’t realize this, and say “I have faith” anyway. But when they don’t indicate where they’ve placed their faith, it turns into a meaningless phrase. There’s a missing object. It’s like saying “I wet,” but not what you wet.

Complete trust or confidence based on what? Dependent on whom? Well, nobody’s ever asked them that. But if they think about it a moment, they can usually tell us where their faith is placed: “I think everything’s gonna be just fine because I have faith in humanity.” Or “I believe in karma; I have faith in that.” Okay, fine. Their faith comes from the belief people are good, or the belief the universe is good. We might debate those beliefs; Christians sure will. But at least we know the basis of their faith.

Still, there are a number of people who don’t know the basis of their faith. They just “have faith.” They have faith because… well, because they have faith. For them, faith isn’t complete trust or confidence in someone or something. It’s having complete trust or confidence. Period. Full stop. They believe… because they believe.

When that’s the case, there is no basis for their belief. “I have faith” is simply a synonym for “I wish. Really, really hard.”

This is why skeptics tend to mock people who “have faith.” We put our faith in things. But they don’t believe in the things we do: Don’t believe in God, Jesus, prophecy, miracles, apostles, the bible, nor Christianity. None of those things are real, they insist, so there’s no basis for our belief: Functionally, we’re just wishing. Really, really hard.

Faith in faith.

And y’know, many people don’t realize faith is transitive; that it needs an object. They think faith is the object. To them, “I have faith” means they have a power, called faith. As I mentioned in my first article on faith, this is the magical power to believe in goofy nonsense.

So if a pagan (and many a Christian as well) “has faith,” it means they now have the ability to believe the impossible. The part which suspends disbelief switches on. You know, the part you turn on whenever you’re watching a superhero movie. The part you struggle to keep on, when it turns out the the superhero movie is poorly written, or has terrible special effects. (The part some people never turn off, which is why they’re such a royal pain to watch superhero movies with. “See, the physics of that maneuver is just impossible…” Yes; I know; shut up; I’m trying to enjoy the movie.)

Pagans assume that’s what we Christians are doing. They don’t see how any rational person could believe Jesus rose from the dead, so they figure we Christians are just suspending disbelief. Deep down we know crucified men don’t just stand up and walk out of their selpucher a few days later. They figure the only reason we accept this idea is ’cause we were ordered to believe it, and threatened with hellfire if we don’t. For some pagans, they shrug and figure it’s not hurting anyone if we believe such silly things. For others, they’re outraged that we would ground our entire lives on such a crazy fantasy.

But that’s not even close to what we’re doing. (Well, when we’re doing faith right.) We accept this idea, not because we were ordered to, but because we met Jesus. Like Thomas, who wouldn’t believe till he saw for himself, Jn 20.24-29 we saw for ourselves. Not necessarily a flesh-and-bone Jesus walking into the room—though some of us totally have—but we saw plenty of other acts of Jesus, which confirm he’s living and active, and cancel out all the doubts we were harboring.

And if any Christians haven’t seen him… well then the pagans are totally right. It really is wishful thinking on their part. It’s why, once they have their crisis of faith, they so easily quit Christianity… and don’t come back till they’ve actually seen Jesus.

That’s why legitimate faith is such a big deal among us Christians. Why we gotta emphasize the real thing, not the imaginary thing. A Christian who’s functioning on imaginary faith, is a Christian with no solid foundation. Basing our Christianity on the testimony of others 1Jn 1.1-4 is a fine starting point; our beliefs should jibe with those of fellow Christians, plus the apostles and prophets of the bible. But after a point we need to experience God for ourselves. If the Holy Spirit legitimately dwells within us, we’re gonna see the Spirit act; we’re gonna see him reveal Jesus to us. That’s what our faith needs to be grounded in. Never wishful thinking.

When faith is like magic.

Christian faith needs to be grounded in Jesus. When it’s not, when it’s placed in our own positive attitude, our own hopeful wishes, our own happy thoughts… really, we’re hoping to conjure up things out of thin air. We’re trying to practice magic.

Take the Christian who wants a new car. May not need it, but really, really wants one. Wants it really bad. Wishes and longs and hopes for it, and is figuring their desires and beliefs are actually gonna make it come into being: They will get a new car. Because they “have faith.”

(No, this isn’t necessarily part of the name-it-and-claim-it school of thought. Those folks believe God will give them what they ask for. Their faith is actually placed in the right guy. Their problem is they suffer from materialism, and wrongly expect God to cater to it. Jm 4.3-4 Whole other problem—but not a faith problem.)

In reality, my wishes have no power. I could wish for all sorts of things. I’m never gonna get any of them unless I take positive efforts towards getting them. Assuming God is okay with me having them, I have to work for them, win them, or find someone who will give them to me. Maybe God himself will be the one who gives them. He has in the past. But wishes alone won’t make anything come into existence. I’m not God; I can’t create something from nothing. I could wish for clean laundry, but it’s not gonna magically appear: I have to do the laundry. I gotta load the machine and turn it on (or, if it’s broken, I gotta fill the sink and get out the washboard). I gotta place my faith in something real: My actions. And the washing machine’s actions. And the detergent’s ability. And so forth.

However much faith I place in my own actions, I know I’m not almighty. But God is. I can put limited faith in myself. I can put total faith in him. Faith in my faith: Hugely misplaced. Faith in my works: Better. Faith in God: Not misplaced at all.

So: Where’ve you placed your faith? In God, or in “faith”?