Re-post: What is Faith — Really?

A Sunday School lad was asked what he thought the word “faith” meant. He said, “Faith means believing what you know ain’t so.”

The boy’s response may seem extreme, but not entirely off-base because, at times, what you call faith may seem almost non-existent. There is a God; of that you’re sure. But when unexpected adversity strikes, the robust faith that others seem to have is just not there for you. It leaves you asking: what is faith — really?

Here’s an answer right out of the Scriptures: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (Heb. 11:1).

The first word of importance here is hope. We usually use the word in mundane ways: “After college. I hope to go to graduate school.” Or “I hope the doctor’s report will be positive.” What we get from such sentences is that hope means optimism about our unforeseen future, and we all need some of that.

But the author of Hebrews uses the word in a much more comprehensive way. It has to do not only with the world our five senses experience but also with the unseen world our spiritual senses engage – the world where God dwells. Elsewhere the writer says that hope is “an anchor for the soul, firm and secure,” and this anchor binds us to where “Jesus who went before us” is (Heb. 6:19,20).

Faith insists that there is more to reality than what we perceive in the moment. In fact, this broader understanding of reality makes one think of St. Paul’s caution to the Corinthian church: “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men (1 Cor. 15:19). We believe that Christ was raised from the dead, and based on that belief we must hold our promised resurrection dear.

So, when the author of the Hebrews says “Faith is being sure of what we hope for” he is saying that our trust in Christ for both time and eternity gives us a certainty that anchors the life we live here and now – this life with its hurts and disappointments as well as its pleasures and surprises. This faith makes us sure of Christ; we are sure of our salvation; we are sure that Our Lord will not leave us alone in the tough times; and this faith makes us sure that our faith in Christ makes our eternal future in him secure.

The author of the Hebrews tells us also that faith makes us “certain of what we do not see” — at least what we do not see with our physical eyes. Here again reality for Christians has a broader perspective than just the here-and-now. We have eyes to see in this life and we use them with joy, but there is a larger reality that goes beyond the physical act of seeing. When Jesus promised his disciples that, “where I am you will be also” he was thinking with this larger vision (John 14:3). When this faith is fully exercised, it grounds our lives in a certainty. Call it Heaven.

We need not be in a hurry to get there. We don’t have to renounce the goodness of our present life or our challenges as God presents them in the here-and-now. The call to faith is never a call to be gloomy. In fact, our life needs this broader perspective in order for us to function with strength and joy in the present. So, authentic Christian faith makes us “certain of what we do not see.”

Is there another way to say this? Eugene Peterson in THE MESSAGE paraphrases the verse from Hebrews this way: “The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living.”

And Oswald Chambers had a fix on the realities of this kind of faith when he wrote, “Faith is a deliberate confidence in the character of God whose ways you may not understand at the time.”

Again, Rabindranath Tagore understood that faith makes us adequate and keeps us calm when the stresses of the here-and-now are severe. He wrote: “Faith is a bird that feels dawn breaking and sings while it is still dark.”

So, the faith we are called to in the Scriptures is really the opposite of “believing what we know ain’t so.” It is being assured of the reality of what we hope for (in Christ) and made certain of what we do not see (with our physical eyes but do see with our spiritual eyes). We know what faith is and, taken this way, it gives us solid footing for life!


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Photo credit: deiseldemon (via flickr.com)

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3 thoughts on “Re-post: What is Faith — Really?

  1. Faith is one of those huge words,like Hope and Love.

    As you say .Pastor Don ,the word ‘hope’ is used in mundane ways ,as in ‘I hope to graduate’.So too is that great word ‘love’ ,as in ‘I love ice-cream’ The greatest words so often get belittled.

    In it’s deepest sense ,hope is prayer.Just as love is living the Christian life.And faith , is believing what God reveals to us.’

    In ‘Foundations of a Living Faith’( Light and Life 1996) ,Faith ,Hope and Love are characterized, in turn, as Christian belief ,Christian prayer and Christian living.

    Christian living :living the Christian life,walking the Christian walk,walking with Christ – the very notion is exciting,a great adventure.The new birth is the start of this great adventure ,but only the start,for now the great undertaking begins.That’s love : Christian living.

    Hope comes to life in prayer,for prayer is hope in action.

    Faith,the great subject of this week’s blog,,is Christian believing.Christian believing is believing God’s revelation to us.The secrets God reveals are beyond ordinary understanding.

    To understand God’s revelations we need to employ not our five physical senses,but our spiritual faculties.

    As ‘Classic Catechism’( Light and Life 2006) succinctly says , we humans are two things – a body and a spirit. Amphibians are built to dwell in two realms,earth and water.Like amphibians, we are created for two realms – the world and the spirit.We can sense the physical with our body – feel,see,hear,smell and taste.But ,as you indicate Pastor, to understand the spiritual, we must engage our spiritual faculties..

    Faith is often contrasted to one particular physical sense – sight.

    There’s a famous quotation of St Augustine ,Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, author of the early 5th century series of 22 volumes called ‘ The City of God against the Pagans’,written shortly after the fall of Christian Rome.

    ‘’Quid est enim fides nisi credere quod non vides’’

    Non Latin speakers will be familiar with some of these Latin words,from their English derivatives. Fidelity derives from fides.We know nisi from the legal term decree nisi ,as in decree absolute.We get creed and credence from the Latin credere.Vides is familiar to us in our word video.

    So it’s not hard to work out what Bishop Augustine is basically saying.

    He’s saying that what faith is really ,is believing absolutely in something one cannot see.

    Seeing is believing,we say

    In fact, for Christ’s disciple Thomas, even seeing wasn’t enough.He needed to actually feel Christs wounds with his sense of touch, before he could believe in the Ressurection.Then Thomas felt ashamed by his lack of faith. As we read the Gospel we almost blush with him, for the moment is as emotionally charged as Peter’s denial.

    Jesus said to Thomas :

    “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

    Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

    Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed;blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20 :27 – 29 NIV

    The Catholic encyclopaedia talks of a twofold order of knowledge.In one we know by natural reason,in the other by divine faith.Truth is attainable by natural reason.But the mysteries hidden in God can only be attained by divine revelation.

    Through His Word,God has spoken to man and revealed to us truths which are not self evident. Either we reject revelation or accept it.The way to accept it is by faith.Faith is submitting our intellect to truths we cannot understand.
    Since these truths come to us from God’s authority,we must understand them.Faith !

    Pastor,your quotations about faith by Oswald Chambers and Rabindrath Tagore are illiminating.Naturally the Indian poets words have the beauty of great poetry.

    “Faith is a bird that feels dawn breaking and sings while it is still dark.”

    Wonderfully evocative and bracing words !

    May I add some famous quotations about faith which I’ve come across and enjoyed..

    17th century English poet,rector’s son John Dryden,author of the epic poem’Absalom and Acitophel’ wrote , pithily :

    ‘’Reason saw not till faith sprung the light’’

    Reason isn’t enough.We cannot understand God’s mysteries except by faith.

    William Channing, the American Unitarian theologian I believe, not his nephew , the transcendentalist poet of the same name but I’m not certain, characterized faith as

    ‘’love taking the form of aspiration’

    I like this linking of faith with love.For I believe our love of God leads to faith in Him and vice versa.

    My favourite biblical quotations on faith are these.’

    ‘’ Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen’’ Hebrews 11:1 AV

    Pastor Don,you quote – “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see’’ I’m guessing this is the clearer and more precise modern English of the NIV.

    Also from the NIV comes ‘’For we live by faith not by sight’’ 2 Cor 5:7

    and

    “The righteous will live by faith.”[b Romans 1:17 NIV

    Like Hope and Love, a wealth of good inspiring words on Faith await us in our Bible .With Hope and Love,Faith is one of the triumvirate of Great Christian Virtues . Faith,Hope,Love ! If we have these,we are well equpped to live as our Heavenly Father wills.

  2. Francis, Your responses are always thoughtful, interesting and uplifting. Keep it up. I love to know that you are out there. I also think it would be good for you to have a blog. You have something to say. Thanks for keeping me posted. Don B

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