It has been said the difference between belief and faith is that you believe you can go safely over a waterfall in a barrel, and faith is actually getting into the barrel and taking the plunge.

There are many things in which people have faith. People have faith in God, or the Church (not the same thing), the Universe, or Destiny, and that everything will work out for the best in the end. People have faith in Democracy, Country, or the Justice System, for the purpose of maintaining peace and justice. Still others have faith in doctors, medicines, Nature and Science. They have faith in institutions like friendship or marriage, and the innate goodness of human beings.

In my experiences providing crisis intervention, and having presided at many memorial services, the differences between belief and faith are sometimes very pronounced. People believe the overwhelming problem facing them will work out, but it doesn’t stop them from being sick with worry. People believe the dearly departed is in a better place ‘on another shore and in a Greater Light’, but they find no comfort in that belief. They experience tremendous pain. Faith doesn’t protect you from ugly reality, but it softens the blow because Faith leads to Hope, making it more possible to endure.

Faith is the active expression of Belief. In whatever one has faith, the person is actively invested in something over which they have little or no control, but in which they have trust. No one controls God, and outcomes are not guaranteed, but we persist. No one controls the Justice System—it is a force unto itself; sometimes an innocent person is found guilty, and guilty people go free on a technicality. We trust our parents, teachers, and leaders, and are surprised when they are not perfect. While expectation is a good and necessary part of faith, too much insistence on that expectation becomes an effort to control. We can only have faith and an expectation (or perhaps better, anticipation) of a result—and open ourselves to Surprise.

Belief can change with time. As William Blake wrote: What is now proved was once only imagined. The flying machines of Leonardo Da Vinci are now fact, perhaps beyond anything he ever imagined. The 19th Century surgeon Theodor Billroth opined that ‘the surgeon who attempted to stitch a wound in the heart would lose the respect of his colleagues forever.’ The heart was the Inner Sanctum, never to be surgically tampered with—to do so was stupidity. To-day, hearts are stitched, repaired, removed and replaced. Belief will change as the facts change, but faith is constant.

Faith is not only the active expression of belief—‘taking the plunge’—but can be active despite improbability, or even impossibility. We have faith that Country will prevail, despite the chaos in democratic countries—chaos that exists not only because Democracy allows it, but chaos that eventually resolves itself. We have faith in human nature—Chinese philosophers have asked, ‘If you do not trust Human Nature, with what will you trust your distrust?’ Some have faith that God will work things out in our lives, despite overwhelming indications to the contrary, and it happens. We call those Miracles. We take medications we don’t understand because we have faith in the doctor, or in science. We trust in something greater than ourselves.

However, we also have faith in ourselves, and this seems paradoxical. There is part of every individual that the person does not control nor know very well. No one can truly be said to be knowledgeable of all his/her potential. We surprise ourselves by taking steps we’d never considered, by doing things we’d never thought we could accomplish. We thought we lacked the wisdom, or the bravery needed, and we were wrong. There is something greater than our self-awareness—our subconscious awareness of self.

Belief is very concrete, and tends to be grounded in fact, though facts may change. Faith is much more profound and flexible; trust that extends its tendrils into what we cannot control, and may not understand. It is important to have faith, because life without faith is desolate, hopeless, and joyless. There can be no faith without belief, of course, and while beliefs can and do change, faith tends to remain constant.

Belief and Faith are often confused, another example of mistaking one thing with another. It is important, particularly in difficult times, to understand that Belief is the fuel, and Faith is the fire.

It is the fire that lights the way.

If you enjoyed reading this, please take a look at my eBooks on

Behind These Red Doors: Stories a Cathedral Could Tell:
Lives of the Ain’ts: Comedic Biographies of Directors Errant:
The Inn of Souls:

You can also see a reading of excerpts of each book by clicking on the links below:

Behind These Red Doors: Stories a Cathedral could Tell:
Lives of the Ain’ts: Comedic Biographies of Directors Errant:
The Inn of Souls:

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