Brian McLaren, in his book The Great Spiritual Migration, has this phrase that he used early on in the piece that caught me as being very true. He said that some people have “many beliefs, but little faith.” (p.45)
Beliefs, he suggests, are opinions or judgments about which someone is fully persuaded. While they may not be verifiable in any reliable way, they are held as un-waveringly true by their adherents.
Faith, on the other hand, doesn’t flow forth from certitude, but rather from the conviction that risking for the sake of love is better than not. And faith, in McLaren’s definition (and in mine) is always connected with deep, abiding love.
So, according to McLaren, an individual might have a ton of beliefs, these things they are so certain about, but have little faith. Their propositions are not rooted in a deep, abiding love that is much bigger than their human understanding of the notion.
They can spout off the Apostle’s Creed, for instance, but have no experience of the God they profess.
They can assert supposedly moral dictums, but have no understanding of the generous space from which morality flows.
They often want to impose their beliefs on others, ignoring how such coercion violates the love they want to claim they have.
Faith, on the other hand, holds the tension of not knowing, not needing to know, and not needing everyone to agree with them, well. Faith leans into the great mysteries of God and holds loosely to the small dogmas that we’ve created about God.
Faith has no need to coerce, but rather coaxes through intentional dialogue and open invitation.
Faith doesn’t just spout off any Apostle’s Creed, but knows intimately the creative, salvific, and sustaining properties of God’s presence because they’ve made it past the life/death, resurrection/redemption, sin/righteousness dualisms that religious history has tried to make us choose between.
The life of faith lives the creed, it doesn’t just believe things about the creed.
Beliefs are so strong, like concrete.
But they crack over time, making them hard to maintain, hard to navigate, just…hard.
Faith, though, is like soil. Tillable, changeable, able to adapt and move with the uneven landscape of growth and advancing years.
And many will find faith challenging their beliefs, growing up through the cracks. Sometimes this invasion of faith can be worrisome. It’s hard for faith to coexist with beliefs sometimes…faith is so unpredictable, and beliefs are so rigid.
Usually a good dose of fear will take care of the faith growing through the cracks of belief. Fear that too much overgrowth will create too much upheaval and then, well, where would we be?
Lots of organized religion has centered itself around beliefs. Just take a look at church websites and click on their “What We Believe” page. You’ll find it all there.
But what about faith?
Lots of people, whether they consider themselves religious or not, have a lot of beliefs.
But what about faith?
Do you have beliefs? Or do you have faith?
I am definitely going to use that concrete/soil analogy. Thanks, that’s good stuff.
You have beautifully articulated a distinction that I have struggled with. I am a lay leader in my church but I often feel that I must not have enough faith. I either don’t believe or don’t really care about most church doctrine. Seems to me that Jesus story tells us to love God and love one another, to love with our deeds and not our words. Your words help me to claim that as my faith and to not fret over belief.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts that I also have had for many years. I feel validated with this explanation of my core beliefs.
Very nice; well said!
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