A rickety bridge
A man is walking through the woods one day when it occurs to him that the top of slope he occasionally glimpses in the distance would give him a wonderful view over the wood he was in. So he heads towards it. Soon he is in a part unfamiliar to him, but with still a sighting of the slope every now and then he presses on. Then he gets to a small river. A quick look and a tentative probe with a branch tells him that it is too deep to wade through, and he's not that keen on swimming just to get what might not be such a good view after all. He shrugs and turn away, but as he does so he notices an old dilapidated bridge, low and little more than a couple of planks crossing the river.
Well, with renewed interest he wanders towards it along the bank, past the bushes that had almost hidden it. As he gets close to it his heart sinks again; it looks very rickety, not at all safe. And he really doesn't fancy getting soaked. So he stops and ponders. While standing there, locked in indecision, a small deer pokes it head into the open space on the far side of the bridge and the man stays very still, delighted to watch it.
After a cautious glance up and down the stream, the deer moves slowly to the bridge, walks across it and skips away into the woods. The man starts breathing again, and wishes he'd brought his camera. Then he realises that if the bridge will bear the weight of the deer, it might bear his. He reconsiders the events and decides that, yes the deer was heavier than him. So he approaches the bridge and - oh, oh! it really does look rotten. And narrow. And that water is probably cold, too. Maybe that deer was not quite as heavy as him. Oh well, it's probably worth a try, so he carefully steps onto the bridge. It creaks and moves a little and once more he hesitates. It didn't creak when the deer was on it, or did it?
Decision time. Trust the bridge or not? Go forward or back? After all, there must be another, safer way to cross the river, so he could look for that tomorrow, perhaps.
Well, I'll leave him dithering there for a moment in the wood, while I draw a few parallels here. There is often a bit of confusion about what trust, belief and faith really are, about what the differences are. I would like to suggest that this little story serves to illustrate these things.
Consider the sequence: information, understanding, belief, trust. These correspond in the story to the walker seeing the bridge (information), realising that it provided a way forward (understanding), deciding it was OK to walk over (belief) and... and what? Does the walker proceed to trust the bridge enough to cross over and continue his walk? Let's go back and see...
He thinks again how easily the deer had crossed just minutes before. If he doesn't try it, he might have a lot of regrets later. But then if the bridge collapses under him he would definitely have regrets, and a lot sooner! He decides to trust the bridge. Taking a few deep breaths to steady his nerves, he carefully moves out over the water. A few more creaks. He carefully avoids stepping on a really decayed piece of wood and carries on. He gets to the other side and feeling slightly light-headed, wonders why he worried about it. Of course that deer had been heavier than him! He presses on towards the slope and yes, from the top it is a magnificent view. Score three to him. He'd seen the deer, found the nerve to cross the dilapidated bridge, and gets to see the view.
On the way back he only hesitates a bit when he gets the bridge, after all, it is still just as rickety. He walks over it again, with much more confidence, and now having the same faith in the bridge as the deer had, he decides to come back tomorrow. Bringing his camera.
So we end up adding the last item of our sequence: faith. Faith is something that comes from experience. Faith is the result of proving belief by trusting it.
The above represents my understanding of the linkage between belief, trust and faith. I am sure that the Bible uses some of these words in ways not quite the way we do today, and in subtler ways. But I think the summary above is a good starting point.
There is a difficulty today in that people use the word "faith" to mean either what they believe or a set of beliefs that they can subscribe to, as in "What is your faith? Mine is Christianity". This is a significant smokescreen, obscuring what faith really is, and discouraging a seeking after it. Biblical faith is based on the experience of acting in trust on that which is believed, and having that trust validated.
When the disciples had failed to cure a boy, they were told why, "And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you." Matthew 17, 20. Such a small amount of faith? This surely can only be because faith is either there, or it isn't. While amount of belief is subject to varying understanding, and half-believing something can be related to ("Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief" Mark 9, 24), it does not seem to be possible to have half faith; the smallest amount can move mountains. This use of the word "faith" is at variance with the modern usage.
The Bible encourages belief in God, knowing that he can be trusted: "For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed." Rom 10, 11. But the Bible also says that salvation comes through faith and it is the trust in the unseen God that is the way to the faith talked of. We are told: "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." Hebrews 11, 1. There the phrase "evidence of" indicates "conviction of", or "trust in". A few pages further on from Hebrews we find the Epistle of James. He, knowing that salvation is by faith alone - after all, it is proclaimed in the old testament: "Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith" Habakkuk 2, 4 - still is able to say that faith without works is dead: "Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone." James 2, 17. This says to me that people who claim to have faith but do not live according to the beliefs that would give rise to it are likely to be fooling themselves. Many people mistakenly think that to believe in God is to be saved. That is rather like a drowning man believing in lifeboats. Yes, they exist, and yes, they save people. But that doesn't mean there is one on hand to get into.
Salvation comes from believing that the Lord Jesus Christ died to pay the price for our sin, trusting that God will accept us because of that, and living our lives according to that trust. Christ was the way provided by God. We have the advantage of that knowledge. We can, in terms of the story above, see the bridge. There were those who could not see it, those who lived before Jesus was born. They still had the way to salvation available, though, by trusting that God would in the future provide the way, and ordering their lives in accord with that trust. "For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God" Job 19, 25-26. Job trusted that God would arrange his redemption and looked forward to Christ, the redeemer.