Sunday, January 29, 2012

Faith or Belief. What’s the Difference – Really?

Hi Steu,

Faith is an act. This is very important to comprehend, because faith has been so watered down over the centuries that we get "having faith" in something and "having a belief" in something all mixed up.

Faith is an act – it is not an intellectual belief in certain principles, tenets, or dogma. Faith is not a rational assertion that the Bible is holy, pure, and true in all respects. Faith is not an assertion that Jesus died for your sins. These are all beliefs.

You don't have faith. You do faith. Faith is an act.

There is a wonderful illustration of this I read many years ago. Back in the early 1900s, so the story goes, there was a tightrope walker that stretched a cable over one of the smaller falls at Niagara. He attracted quite a crowd and was making a significant amount of money. The event, in terms of ticket sales, was a success.

His fliers had announced that he would cross the falls twice – first, blindfolded with a balance bar and secondly (not blindfolded) pushing a wheelbarrow. He proceeded to do just that.

The crowd was ecstatic! The tightrope walker was on a natural high – both from the size and reaction of the crowd and from the knowledge he had more than met his financial goal.

He decided to give the crowd an unexpected bonus and do a third crossing.

"How many of you believe I can cross the falls a third time?" he shouted above the roar of the crowd.

The crowd roared back: "We all do!"

He shouted again. "How many of you believe I can push the wheelbarrow across again?"

"We have faith in you! You can do it! We know you can do it!" chanted the crowd in unison.

"Do you really have faith in me?"

"Yes! We have faith! You can do it!" responded the crowd.

"Well then, let's do it!" he replied and the crowd went simply wild.

Then he shushed them by putting his finger up to his lips saying, "Since you have so much faith, I need a volunteer to get in the wheelbarrow."

No one moved.

Faith is an act.

When you drive your car and stay to the right of the center line, you are doing faith – because you are acting on your belief that oncoming drivers will stay to their right of the center line.

Many of us give generously because of our faith in the words of Jesus to care for the less fortunate.We also believe that "As you give so shall you receive" or "What you sow you will reap." When we decide to support a charity and, before we decide on the dollar amount we will give, we wait until all our monthly bills are paid so we're reasonably assured that we have enough to make it to the end of the month – that is not faith. Even though we’re acting as a timid reluctant giver, we get angry and frustrated because the universe is reluctantly responding to our perceived needs.

When I left fulltime employment and became a private consultant, I suddenly had a monthly income that varied considerably. It was very, very difficult for me to make a determination about my level of financial support for favorite charities – knowing that I had no real idea what my monthly income was going to be down the road. That was a real test for my faith. Trust me, I haven’t always scored an A+ on that issue.

Faith is an act on a belief, not simply believing the belief. Faith is not an intellectual decision. Faith is not verbalizing an intellectual agreement to some proposition. It is a knowing that allows an act on a belief. I write checks to charities now [an act] based on my confidence [a belief] that if anticipated revenues don’t happen and times get tough, I’ll adjust and pull through. It’s happened too many times in my life for me to ignore.

As the cute little adage goes: “Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.”

Last week we discussed the “Certainty of Faith” and its relationship to fear. I know many folks who’ve said they rest their hope to avoid an eternity in Hell on their belief in the Bible. They have faith in the Bible. They believe that the Bible – any part of the Bible – is the be-all end-all determiner of correct Christian thought and behavior. In Appendix D of my book I reproduced a letter to a newspaper written by a resident who believed in the inerrancy of the Bible. I received his permission to include it in my book. In part he said: “The Bible, God’s Holy Word, is alone the foundation of our faith and must be the incontrovertible truth that guides a Christian’s life and the church.”

He equated belief in the Bible with faith.

I don’t want to do that. When I was still a practicing alcoholic I had to have alcohol in my system 24 hours a day in order to feel normal. I never – I MEAN NEVER – entertained the thought that that was abnormal. I have first-hand knowledge of how my intellectual capacity can be very, very flawed. Perhaps you do, too. So, I feel very insecure when I think that even a tiny, tiny portion of my “eternal salvation” rests on my ability to make rational decisions based on my perceptions, my limited thinking processes, and to trust my intellectual judgment. Just think about it. German Nazism, the KKK, and all sorts of other rather insidious groups used the Bible as the “…foundation of their faith.” All of them found enough out-of-context biblical passages to support their cause. People see in the Bible what they want to see. My mind has played rather nasty tricks on me. Their minds played tricks on them. I don’t want to do that.

For me the Bible is a guide. For me I place my hope in the still, small whispers as the Holy Spirit speaks to me. The Holy Spirit doesn’t threaten me with eternal damnation. He doesn’t pummel me about the head and shoulders over my sinfulness. He knows me as I am – an already loved eternal spirit currently living as a human being and who has made many mistakes. He works with me to correct my errors of perception and – trust me – He is very, very patient.

Thanks for listening and, as always, I hope you have someone in your life you can forward this to.

Don
#5 January 2012

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Donald O'Dell
www.DonODell.com

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