Today in class we studied Hebrews 11-12:3. The chapter has been called “the hall of faith” by many people. In it were are given examples of people who lived by faith in an unseen reality, and who were able to endure the trials before them. The listeners are being given an example to follow, to follow these people in living by faith. They too have a word from God, a promise which is yet unseen, as well as a situation of past suffering and present alienation, and the author wants them to move forward in faith, by looking past all the things they see now, and to look to the unseen reality.
Verse 1 has troubled many translators. Here is an example.
ESV – Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
HCSB – Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.
KJV – Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
NET – Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see.
The issue really is, should it be translated subjectively “faith… is being convinced of something”, or objectively “faith… is proof of something?” Faith is definitely confidence, trust, but it seems here the author is focusing on the objective nature of faith, in other words, what faith shows. Craig Koester has an interesting thing to say about this:
The author uses a weird Greek word that many translators think: he can’t be serious! Literally, the “proof” of things not seen. King James goes with the “evidence” of things not seen. The NRSV softens it a bit with “conviction” of things not seen. But it really is something more like proof. Faith is the proof of things not seen! Is my faith proof of anything? Just because I believe it doesn’t mean it is real. The author, by using the provocative way of stating this, is pointing to the reality that faith, where it exists, is being called into an existence by something beyond—by a power of God that you cannot see with your eyes. What you see is God’s power continuing to awaken faith in all kinds of situations where you wouldn’t imagine faith existing.
He then gives this analogy to help us understand what he means:
Here is a crazy analogy—from the realm of faith to the realm of the sciences. Think of the planets. The further out you get in the solar system to the planet Uranus was that the planet had a weird orbit. It didn’t go where people expected it to go—it was supposed to go ‘round and ‘round the sun. This one seemed to be getting pulled in a strange direction. There had to be something that was pulling it out of sync. There has got to be something unseen beyond it. People knew that the planet Neptune was out there even though they couldn’t see it because it had the power to pull the next planet in out of its usual orbit. For the author of Hebrews, that is what faith is. It is God pulling you out of your usual orbit. You see the power of God at work when it pulls people beyond the despair that you might expect, beyond the cynicism you might expect, beyond the sense of disappointment you might expect—into a sense of hope.
Faith is proof of a power working in your life, the power of God. God comes to us in His Word, creates faith in our hearts, and this faith shapes our lives, it pushes us out of our usual orbit. The author then continues on in Hebrews 11 to show how the faith of the ancestors shaped their lives and was commended by God.
As I was thinking about this, I had to ask this question: “Is my faith shaping my life?” Perhaps that is a simple thing we need to ask ourselves sometimes. But what if, so to say, your faith does not seem to shape your life? What is the solution? Start trying to live a godly life? Start trying to fast and pray? All of these things are great, but that is not the solution. If our faith does not seem to affect us, the solution is not to start following a list of dos and don’ts. That is simply trying to fix a symptom. Instead, we must go to the heart.
Faith is created by God’s word, His promises. Spend some time thinking about all of God’s promises he has given to you in Jesus. Spend some time thinking about God’s promise to raise you from the dead. Spend some time thinking about all that God has said he would do. Let his Word come to you to create and strengthen your faith.
Romans 10:14-17 (ESV)
14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.