Faith: A Journey For All


Faith: A Journey For All
Author: Jimmy Carter
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Published: 3/27/2018
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER In this powerful reflection, President Jimmy Carter contemplates how faith has sustained him in happiness and disappointment. He considers how we may find it in our own lives.

Book Summary - Faith by Jimmy Carter

Key Insights

Jimmy Carter is a man of faith—hence the title of the book. Like many people in the United States, faith is central to him as a person, his understanding of the country, and upon which he encourages others to base their lives.

But, to understand what he means by the important word “faith,” we must see what he has to say. His understanding comes from evangelical Christianity.

He is also someone who readily admits that his faith influences his politics, what he thinks about other politicians, and that his faith is something that has been shaped by many other people.

Key Points

“You got to have faith,” but what is it?

The well-known song lyric goes “you gotta have faith,” but what is faith, exactly?

People’s understanding of the word “faith” varies within religions and even among just one religion. Some of the synonyms for “faith” include belief, assurance, trust, and more.

For some people, “faith” is a kind of “leap,” as though someone was abandoning knowledge for something else unknown altogether.

All people have some kind of “faith,” e.g., faith in their parents. That begins at a very early age. Children automatically assume their parents have their best interests in mind.

What exactly does Carter mean? Having a clear definition becomes important.

Carter indicates that faith is confidence or trust in a person or thing or the observance of an obligation from loyalty. Faith is also fidelity to a concept, promise, or an engagement. Carter gains this definition from the Bible’s own definition of faith, “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).

Carter’s faith is based on Christianity. As a child, he learned about Christianity from studying the Bible and from his time attending a local church. His father was a deacon and teacher at Plains Baptist Church. Carter learned about who God is and who Jesus Christ is.

Like many people, Carter had doubts about his faith as his life went on, but he remained in his faith throughout his life until now. Skepticism is common in adolescence, as Carter himself found. One of the reasons why he struggled with skepticism is because his father died when Carter when in his twenties. He struggled heavily with that, asking God why would something so awful like that happen. But that is just part of the journey of faith, learning to overcome the uncertainties in life and figuring out what someone’s faith really is.

From this background, Carter identifies himself as an evangelical Christian. He has spent time teaching adult Bible studies in local churches as a result. Carter is a Baptist. Baptists believe that they should be free to interpret the Bible for themselves. This belief was especially important for him as he sought to form his faith from Scripture and from reading other authors, like Reinhold Niebuhr, who highly influenced him.

Faith is also something that ought to affect how we live each day. Faith is definitely called into question when someone’s actions do not match their faith profession.

Carter also claims that religious values should transcend what a government can achieve. He claims that values such as humility, atonement, forgiveness, compassion, and love are all such values.

With it, he seeks to instill hope in other people and to encourage them to share his understanding of peace and human rights. Thus, his faith is the lens through which he views the world. That is also why he advocates for political positions that concord with his faith. For Carter, faith is a trust that leads to a call to action based on that trust.

Carter also claims that his faith and his understanding of science are harmonious. He is a nuclear physicist, after all. For Carter, religion and faith complement one another rather than conflict. Science and religion address different things, with science focusing on the knowable world and religion on the other parts of life that we cannot observe through science but still matter.

Just as there is a lot in common among the sciences, there is also a lot in common among the various faiths of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. A lot of the moral laws can be found in each of the religions to guide people’s lives.

Carter also believes that someone’s faith ought to drive how they live their lives. He encourages people to use their talents and opportunities to the fullest degree possible for the benefit of others.

Carter also insists that the United States should be a country that maintains its faith, such that it demonstrates it in its policies on abortion, civil liberties, environmental protection, gun control, nuclear proliferation, separation of politics and religion, women’s rights, sexual identity, and arguments about science versus religion. If the US would do this very thing, then it would be an international paragon to the world.

On the basis of Carter’s faith, he disagrees with President Donald Trump’s political positions on domestic needs and war. Carter avers that the country should build up its infrastructure and avoid war in favor of resolving disputes peacefully. Carter also opines that Trump undermines faith in the US government altogether because of Trump’s uncontrolled, irresponsible comments. Carter also believes that the US should devote more attention to foreign aid, especially for migrants.

Faith is also something that should encourage people to serve others, especially by engaging in missionary work. For example, Millard and Linda Fuller started Habitat for Humanity, an organization designed to build homes for destitute families. Other missionaries have served in countries like Uganda, faced persecution, and still stayed in the country even after being released from bondage to demonstrate their faith in that country. Certainly, many people would be tempted to leave after such treatment, but these missionaries believed that they needed to stay.

Some of the current challenges in society certainly pose a real challenge to someone’s faith. For example, the wealth inequality in the world can be a real struggle, with some people making millions and billions whereas others starve. Furthermore, the kind of racial discrimination that Carter faced with the KKK was a real challenge that he successfully dealt with.

Influences of Faith

Because of Carter’s presidential term, he had the opportunity to meet all kinds of leaders associated with faith. He met Mother Teresa, Billy Graham, Pope John Paul II, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Although these people’s definitions of faith differ, they have still influenced Carter’s own faith.

Carter’s faith has also been influenced by the writings of activists, ethicists, philosophers, theologians, and thinkers of all kinds. The names are as follows: Stephen Jay Gould, Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Emil

Brunner, Rudolf Karl Bultmann, William Sloane Coffin, Clarence Jordan, Immanuel Kant, Søren Kierkegaard, Jürgen Moltmann, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and brothers Reinhold and H. Richard Niebuhr.

This list consists of a wide variety of thinkers on a whole host of different issues, but Carter believes it is important to be molded by such thinkers.

Some of the most influential people in his life may be less known but are as follows:

  • Dr. Bill Foege: he devoted his life to improving public health and created the procedure to eradicate smallpox and launched other programs to fight Guinea worm, river blindness, elephantiasis, and malaria, as well as other diseases.
  • Lillian Gordy Carter: she was Jimmy Carter’s mother who was an RN who regularly treated the poor and needy around Plains, GA.
  • Admiral Hyman Rickover: he was a father-figure to Carter when he was in Rickover’s naval program. Rickover expected the absolute best from himself and those who served him, and Carter took note of that.

The Main Take-away

For Carter, faith is a central goal that people ought to have on which to base their lives, and he has been heavily influenced by several well-known people in his life that have shaped his understanding of faith. For him, faith is something that must provide optimism for all people.

About the Author

Nobel Peace Prize recipient Jimmy Carter was the 39th US president (1977-1981). In 1982, he and his wife Rosalynn Carter created The Carter Center, which focuses on improving life for people around the globe. His 30 books include A Call to Action, A Full Life, and An Hour Before Daylight.

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