Robert Farrar Capon’s Definition of Faith

Faith doesn’t do anything; it simply enables us to relate ourselves to someone else who has already done whatever needs doing. Illustration: Imagine that I am in the hospital, in traction, with casts on both arms and both legs. And imagine further that every time you visit me, I carry on despairingly about the fact that my house, in my absence, is falling apart: the paint is peeling, the sills are rotting, the roof is blowing away in the wind.

But then image that one day, after a considerable interval, you come to me and say, “Robert, I have just paid off the contractor I engaged to repair your house. It’s all fixed—a gift from me to you.” What are my choices in the face of such good news? I cannot go out of the hospital to check for myself—I cannot know that you have fixed my house for me. I can only disbelieve you or believe you. If I disbelieve you, I go on being a miserable bore. But if I believe you—if I trust your word that you have done the job for me—I have my first good day in a long while. My faith, you see, accomplishes nothing but my own enjoyment.

Look at it another way. Suppose I had decided, while staring at the hospital ceiling, that if only I could work up enough faith, you would undertake to repair my house. And suppose further that I had grunted and groaned through every waking hour trying to get my faith meter up to red hot. What good would that have done unless you had decided, as a gift to me in response to no activity on my part whatsoever, to do the job for me? No good, that’s what. Faith doesn’t fix houses—carpenters and painters do. And faith doesn’t pay bills, either. Faith, therefore, is not a gadget by which I can work wonders. It is just trust in a person who actually can work them—and who has promised me he already has.

Robert Farrar Capon
“The Astonished Heart: Reclaiming the Good News from the Last-and-Found of Church History”
p. 40-41