Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen
Abraham believed God’s promise, hardly knowing what it could mean
In so doing, God reckoned him righteous, in a way no law could contravene
Through faith, that righteousness is ours, for God’s promise is evergreen
Hoping in Jesus, we are perfected and through his blood are washed clean.
I really like the opening statement about faith in Hebrews 11. Its wording varies between different versions of the Bible, though the meaning is consistent. The first verse generally reads something like: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.” I particularly like words such as “substance” and “evidence” because they confirm that faith is something grounded in experience and history. It isn’t simply “blind faith”. I don’t expect proof of God, but I do need evidence.
If I were a juror, I would be presented with different kinds of evidence in order to reach my verdict: forensic evidence, witness statements, cross-examination in court, hearsay evidence, circumstantial evidence and so forth. I would be influenced by the credibility and apparent honesty of witnesses and their consistency in answering questions and describing events (although I’d be suspicious if every last detail matched up perfectly). When I read the Bible and see the footprints of God, that’s the sort of evidence I find. That’s why I have faith – not because I’ve been scared or brainwashed into blind faith, but because I see the sort of evidence that would substantiate a decision in a court of law.
For a long time, I thought that faith was something I had arrived at rationally by looking at evidence. Nowadays, I realise that perception is necessary but not sufficient: something else is at work. Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:9); it will be increased if I recognise and accept this gift. Thus, as Hebrews 11:1 indicates, ‘faith’ is itself ‘evidence’. If my faith grows stronger, that itself is evidence that God is at work in me. Especially in his letters to Timothy, Paul emphasises the importance of faithfulness, and commends Timothy’s mother and grandmother for the faith which they possessed and passed on.
Again, I have come to realise that a deepening of faith and faithfulness does not mean that faith has to be increasingly blind and unquestioning. Childlike, simple and trusting are not the same as childish, simplistic and gullible. The work of the Holy Spirit is often strongest when we find our faith challenged and tested, and when we question God. Challenges to our faith may be uncomfortable, but I have found they are the grit in the oyster that helps the pearl to grow.
A further aspect of faith which has become increasingly important to me is that it forms the basis of our righteousness. Romans 4:3 (referring to Genesis 15:6) states that “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned/credited to him as righteousness”. When I first read the book of Job, I thought he had been treated harshly and I didn’t really understand what he was supposed to have done wrong, until I began to see how he had been “righteous in his own eyes” (Job 32:1). Since we cannot possess true righteousness by our own power, it must be reckoned or credited to us by God. This happens by faith. For Abraham it meant faith in the message sent to him by God. For us it means faith in Jesus as Saviour. However flawed we are, faith makes us righteous in God’s eyes. (“Righteousness” can be a really uncomfortable word which makes us sound “holier than thou”, so I’ve tried to unpack it in another acrostic.)
So, to me, it matters greatly that faith is substantive and evidence-based. I’m also very reassured that the Holy Spirit helps me to have greater faith, and thereby sets me right with God.
(Faith appears on my New Testament: The Early Church page).