Well, I had always thought so. But many years ago I was in a treatment center in Birmingham, AL, in a class called Recovery Dynamics. (It was an expanded teaching of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.) In that lecture the speaker asked us, “How many of you think that belief and faith are the same?” Almost every hand in the room went up. He then said, “They look like they would be the same, but in fact they are very different.” Here is what I learned:
To begin with “belief” in and of it’s self is a “suspicion” that something might be true, while “faith” is the “knowledge” that something is true.
For example: Let’s say I met you where I work and we have worked together for a few weeks. Now you seem like a pretty good person, a fairly honest and reliable person. You ask to borrow $3.00 and you’ll pay me back Friday. Now, do I, based on what I have observed so far, loan it to you? I probably would. Not because I am “certain” you’ll pay me back, but from what I have seen I “think” you will. But now let’s say you asked to “watch my house” for me while I’m out of town? Uhhhhh…. NO. Why? Well, while you “seem” to be a pretty good person, I don’t really know that you actually are a good person. Therefore I can’t trust you that much. So how could we shift from me “believing” you are a good person to “knowing” that you are a good person? Time and experience has to happen. Over the course of time I will see actions, (results), with you that will show me whether you are an honest and trustworthy person or not. Without the results, I can never move from belief to faith.
Alright, so let’s shift that to God and the steps. If someone were to say to me, early in my recovery, (which by the way someone did!), “You do not have faith, you have belief.” I can tell you right now, I would have, (and did), become very defensive! But based on the definition provided, it really would be true. When it came to living/staying sober, I had a belief that God could and would keep me sober, but I could not say that I knew for sure that He would. I mean after all, I had just returned to treatment from a relapse. I could believe the steps would keep me clean, but I couldn’t know that they would, because I had not consistently applied them to my life on a daily basis. The Big Book makes many, many references to “belief”. In We Agnostics it says, “We needed to ask ourselves but one short question. Do I now believe, or am I even willing to believe, that there is a Power greater than myself? As soon as a man can say that he does believe, or is willing to believe, we emphatically assure him that he is well on his way.” How freeing is that? To begin the spiritual journey, I don’t have to know anything! All spiritual growth, (as do all relationships), begins with a suspicion that it is worth pursuing. No further information or evidence is necessary.
Having been raised in the church, I had a certain degree of guilt and discomfort with saying I didn’t have “faith”. But the day I heard that lecture, for the first time in my life, I understood! Why would dealing with God be any different than dealing with
anyone else? I mean, until I went through the process of “give and take” with Him, how could I have anything more than just a belief? I would need a venue to see results that I indeed could trust and rely upon Him with everything, and see that He wouldn’t abandon me. The steps allowed me to do that.
Let’s look at the steps:
Step 1 We admitted we were powerless and our lives had become unmanageable. (No problem there)
Step 2 Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Let’s stop there. Now, if I thought I had to have “faith”, I could be stuck on that step forever! If faith means I know it’s true, but I am not yet on steps that allow me the actions which would bring about the needed results, then I would remain unable to ever truly “know” anything. I can not shift from “belief”, which alone can not keep me sober, to “faith” which is the only thing that can.
(Example: If I’m really thirsty and someone puts a big ol’ glass of ice water in front of me, but I don’t drink it, then I can believe all day long that it would be really good, but I won’t know how good it is until I take the action to pick it up and drink it! Then I will shift from the belief of how good it would be to the knowledge of how good it is.) I have to work the steps and get the results, which will only come from that action, in order to know that this reliance upon God will keep me sober.
So in closing, I don’t have to figure it all out. I don’t have to know that God really is or really can. I only have to believe, or suspect that, (depending on where your coming from), God really exists, or God really loves me, or God really can fix me, or God really will stick with me or working these steps really can keep me clean and sober. I don’t need to have a “spiritual experience” in the first three steps! I only have to suspect that it is possible and work the rest of the steps, which will produce results and ultimately lead to knowledge or “faith” that it all really does work!
After all, it is not until Step 12 that the spiritual awakening is referred to in the past tense. (Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and practice these principles in all of our affairs.
©2006-2014 Rebecca Balko