The Difference Between Belief & Faith

Many years ago, I had a woman who worked for me, who was a Jehovah's Witness--a member of a religious community that identifies as Christian but also has some decidedly unorthodox beliefs.  

This person once shared with me that she wished she could "rule" with me one day, but since I wasn't a Jehovah's Witness, this would be impossible.  

Her beliefs (as she related them to me) held that only 144, 000 people would get to heaven (a select group of Jehovah's Witnesses, of course) and that the rest of the faithful would live forever in paradise on Earth.  

Somehow, she believed that she was destined to be a ruler of some sort, hence her comment to me about how she wished I could join her.  

I jokingly told her: "Well, you might be a ruler one day, but today I'm still your boss, and your break is over... get back to work!"  

Interestingly, there was another employee who worked with us, and who had once been a part of my friend's faith community.  But she'd violated some rule or another, and they kicked her out of their fellowship and forbade any members to speak to her again.  

These two women would sometimes be forced to work side by side, but would never speak.  I remember thinking at the time how wrongheaded beliefs can destroy just about anything---even our closest relationships.

There is an important distinction between belief and faith, and it's that distinction that makes all the difference in situations like I described above.  

In Alan Watts' excellent book The Wisdom of Insecurity, he offers this amazing comparison between belief and faith that I find super instructive.  

Belief, as I use the word here, is the insistence that the truth is what one would "lief" or wish it to be. The believer will open his mind to the truth on the condition that it fits in which his preconceived ideas and wishes. Faith, on the other hand, is an unreserved opening of the mind to the truth, whatever it may turn out to be. 

In the example I shared earlier, the woman I was speaking to wanted to believe that her adherence to the rules of her community would one day pay off, and she'd rule for all eternity.  

But her worldview was actually centered around the notion that her "team" was right and every other team was wrong.  This was a worldview that extended to most areas of her life but particularly to her religion.  

Imagine what a difference genuine, humble, open-handed faith might have made in that situation.  Embracing faith over belief (as Watt described it) may have led the woman to indignation over the grace-less way her community acted.  

It may have resulted in her pushing away from the exclusivity and triumphalism of her beliefs and toward a more loving, inclusive way of being in the world. It may have saved her relationship with a close friend. 

This is an area of my life where I need a lot of work and a lot of Holy Spirit guidance.  Maybe you feel the same way, too.  My prayer for all of us is that we would learn to live more nimbly in the world, and with hands opened to both give and receive.  

May it be so, and may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.  


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