Belief, Faith, and Knowing


To know something, to believe something, and to have faith in something are all different things. They reflect degrees of involvement with knowledge that can vary from the most superficial awareness to the most profound perception of our deepest being. We can think something with only the surface of ourselves, and we can know something with the totality of who we are. How we know, and at what depth we know, determines how we live. For this reason it is useful to ask: How do we know that God is real? How do we know that Light is real? How do we know that the process of purification is real? These are important questions for us — questions that require reflection.

Knowing is based on our experience of something. In knowing something, we do not think or speculate about it. We perceive it so deeply within ourselves as true that we don’t have to discuss it.

To begin with, let us ask: What is it to ‘know’ something? What is it to ‘believe’ something? What is it to ‘have faith’ in something?

We believe things with our minds. Beliefs are ideas. They are concepts. They give us a picture of reality that others can agree with or disagree with. Beliefs are thoughts that can be put into words and these words can be communicated to others. Beliefs, however, are not absolute truths. They are opinions about reality, not reality itself. In the realm of belief we can have our own opinions, others can have their opinions, and we can agree or disagree, remembering that the truth of our beliefs is relative.

Having faith in something is different than this. Faith, in a spiritual sense, does not have to do with relative truths but with absolute truths — truths that exist for all time. Faith relates us to an unvarying, underlying reality that we share in — one that we assume exists whether we believe in it or not. Unlike beliefs which are of the mind, faith is not just of the mind but of the heart as well.

Here is an example of the difference between belief and faith: We think something with our mind about God. This is our concept of God. We think, for example, that God is the creator of the Universe and that God must have had a reason for wanting to create the Universe, that is, that it was an intentional act. We can think that the reason for this act is unknown, or we can think that the reason for this act was the wish to extend love. Whichever we think, we are still in the realm of concepts. We are still in the realm of opinions.

Faith comes into play when we tell ourselves that our concepts are true— when we hold them to be true even though we don’t have any proofthat they are true. Then we have crossed the line. Faith is not concerned with proof. This is because faith is of the heart as well as the mind. Faith occurs not just because we think something is true, but because we want it to be true and our minds tell us that it may be true. Faith combines our heart’s wish and our mind’s belief into an inner affirmation that the possible is real. Faith is the affirmation of this reality.

When we have faith, we believe in the invisible. In doing this, our mind faces a clear choice between doubt and trust. Faith makes the choice to trust based on the joining of mind and heart. It makes the choice to suspend doubt and cynicism and to say “yes” to the thinking of the heart rather than to rational thinking. In place of rational thinking faith says: “I can believe in what I do not see, for it is not physical sight that gives reality to things but heart and intuition that gives reality to things.” Faith is based on the willingness of the mind to side with the reality of the heart which holds that what is subjective can be equally real to what is objective, even though it may not be provable in a physical sense. Love is like this, a subjective fact whose existence cannot be proven but whose reality is nevertheless very real.

Those who take exception to faith as a way of perceiving reality, often do so on the basis of scientific rationality. One of the most common arguments against faith is this: if you cannot see it, touch it, or feel it with your senses, you cannot know it exists. Further, if no one else but you can perceive it, then there is even less chance that it exists.

This is a very common argument against faith — one which requires proof in order to believe something. This argument is valid, but only within the realm in which proof operates, the realm of science, not the realm of life. It is valid within this realm because scientific thinking defines a methodology which is based on proof as a way of dealing with externally verifiable facts. But a methodology is not a cosmology— it is not a way of understanding life and how existence came to be. For this, something else is needed. Science as a methodology is only capable of understanding what is within its domain — the domain of the physical. This is important to understand. Science is not reality but a tool with which to explore a portion of reality. There are many other portions to which it does not apply.

Scientific reality or the scientific mind, for example, can have little to say about the phenomenon of ‘knowing’. For ‘knowing’, unlike both belief and faith, participates little, if at all, in the mind. Indeed, if we say that belief is based in the mind, and faith is based in the joining of heart and mind, then ‘knowing’ can be said to be based in the body — in our very being itself.

Knowing is based on our experience of something. In knowing something, we do not think or speculate about it. We perceive it so deeply within ourselves as true that we don’t have to discuss it, and no matter what anyone else says about it, it does not alter our reality. In this sense, we can say that experience just is. It cannot be proved or disproved. It can go to more and more profound levels of conviction, but it is generally only we ourselves who can testify to it. Our experience is the most interior, private part of ourselves — the part with which we feel the most certain because it lives within us at the deepest place.

To experience something is to know it. To experience something deeply is to know it with a degree of certainty that gives it more power and influence over our lives than other things. Here is a common example of our knowing something: When the sun shines on our skin we feel warmth. We don’t need anyone else to tell us what we feel. We know that we feel something we call ‘warmth’. In relation to the sun, we have an ease with our knowing since others share our experience and can understand it. But we can experience things that are just as real as the sun shining on our skin that others cannot see, and know them to be true with equally strong conviction. Our problem in doing so is that when others cannot validate our experience for us, we frequently invalidate it ourselves.

It is this way with the perception of God and Light. The experience of God and the energy of light can be as real to us as the warmth of the sun on our skin. Yet, because we are alone in our perception, it is often difficult for us to appreciate that we know something. This is complicated by the fact that it is also difficult for us to put such experiences into words because we don’t have the language to do so. And so we try to do the best we can, knowing all the while that words are inadequate in communicating our experience to others. We know that the experience of God or Light can be felt in our bodies, and it is unlike thinking about something or having faith in it. This is what purification teaches us.

Here is the point that all spiritual life strives for and the point of purification as well: to go beyond both faith and belief into knowing — to bring each of us to the point of experiencing God in a way that is so real that it will be impossible to deny. All of spiritual life is directed toward this knowing. We seek it, we long for it, we search for it, and when we find it, it leaves an imprint on our soul.

In the realm of spiritual experience, there are many people who are afraid to know what they know. They may have had intuitions about things that are quite deep. They may have had experiences of God’s presence that have come to them like a whisper or a gentle breeze that hardly lets you know it’s there. Yet, because an experience doesn’t last, they are inclined to say that it wasn’t there in the first place.

Here is fear speaking — the thought of being seen as foolish or crazy. Within the spiritual realm, we can know something for a moment and it can change our life forever. Many people have had such an experience and have been afraid to claim it for themselves because of the lack of proof that it actually occurred. As a result, they let go of something that could have changed the rest of their life because they were afraid to claim it as real. The imprint of spiritual reality does not exist in time, it exists in depth, and if we claim our knowing, a moment is more than enough to convey to us the impression of eternity. This is how powerful spiritual reality can be.

Knowing something, then, can change our relationship to everything in our life, because it changes usin the deepest sense of who we feel we are. This is the goal of purification, to bring us into the knowing of Divine reality through our experience. This knowing takes us past faith and belief into certainty. It takes us past doubt and cynicism into certainty. It takes us past opinions, discussions, relative truths, and spiritual debates into a peace and certainty that nothing can eradicate. Knowing of Divine reality is the single most important event that can change a person’s relationship to life. It is our future, and what lies before us as souls.


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