We say it, “seeing is believing”, but I don’t think we believe it . You can probably think of something you’ve seen (or you think you’ve seen) but still struggle to wrap your head around. I experienced a “near car wreck” in my ’20’s that I still struggle to believe, and when I tell people about it, they look at me rather incredulously. And they should. It’s difficult to believe.
So, when the writer of Hebrews floats a definition of faith by us, and we don’t stop to pick it apart, that’s probably why. We already can think of a few things that aren’t God and which we still struggle to believe, even with evidence. If we can struggle with faith in seen stuff, accepting unseen faith in God is easier. Does that sound backwards? That’s probably more psychological than philosophical, but it’s still true.
Even so, let’s look more closely at the definition of faith provided by the writer of Hebrews, especially the second half:
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval.Hebrews 11:1-2 (NASB, emphasis mine)
The New American Standard uses “conviction”, but you may be more familiar with “evidence” here. Those two terms are not the same in English. “Conviction” is a conclusion derived from some process (perhaps including evidence), “evidence” is what is used to derive a conclusion. That’s not an unimportant distinction. Take a moment and think about it. Is faith the end of the process or an element of it?
As part of your process in drawing a conclusion about whether faith is evidence or assurance, keep in mind that this statement sits parallel to the first part of the definition, “substance of what is hoped for”, where, again, the NASB has “assurance”. Here, once again, the choice is between an element in the process of arriving at a conclusion, or the conclusion itself. Does that sound unnecessarily confusing? I hope not.
It isn’t absolutely necessary to think about what you think about. I find it helpful. I prefer the elements in the process of coming to a conclusion rather than being handed a conclusion. But honestly, in discussing the Creator of the universe, it makes more sense to simply receive the conclusion. Faith is received (Ephesians 2:8,9). Is it “evidence”? In a very important sense, yes, it is. But in another sense, faith is the conclusion we live by.
The word “things” in the term, “things not seen” is the Greek word from which we get “pragmatic”. For the Greeks it referred to “matters” personal, business, governmental, or even legal. So, events, points in time, of a practical nature, relating to daily life, but which are not seen, what are those? Creation? Salvation? Jesus’ life, His resurrection, His ministry of intercession? All of these, and all the rest of Scripture, make up the pragmatic things we haven’t witnessed personally, but about which we are convinced.
Having been convinced of these things, we live our lives, make decisions about what to say, where to go, what to do. That is faith. We have hope in a future with Jesus, and faith gives substance to that hope. That assurance of such a future enables us to behave as if it’s true. But there is so much we cannot see, so much that affects our day-to-day lives outside of our view. And we need the gift of faith from our Savior to live out our days convinced it is all proven, even when we can’t see it.
Some thoughts about faith. I hope they help you through another day in quarantine. What are yours through the knothole this morning?
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation