"Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see." - Hebrews 11:!
Norman Geisler wrote a short book some time ago called “I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist.” If the title alone is not self-explanatory, it was a list of all of the reasons and evidence that would ‘prove’ why God existed and it would take an enormous amount of faith to not believe in a God. But faith is so much more than just ‘weighing evidence’; it’s a real encounter with the risen Christ.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t read God’s word, weigh evidence, and then come to a conclusion. Reasons for your belief are important and Biblical. But if that’s all you ever do, you miss out on the abundance that Jesus so desperately wants to give you. So faith is something more than just having head knowledge about God. It’s having a heart knowledge. A ‘heart’ knowledge of Jesus means your understanding of faith is not just an academic or theological exercise, but it’s a relationship with the living God.
A few years ago I was sitting in a pub with a good friend in the UK, and we started talking about this subject, and the difference between faith, and knowledge about God. He was deeply grieved by many of his colleagues, who though they themselves had a deep desire to be a Christian, were skeptical of their own faith and continued to be uncertain about what they believed. They had a desire to have a relationship with God, but they struggled to believe that the Bible was accurate, true or that Jesus really did raise from the dead. And so we talked about faith, all the hard questions. What does it mean to have faith? If faith is trust, how can I trust something that I’ve not seen? If I’ve not seen it, am I really just following blindly, like a lamb led to slaughter? Is blind faith enough in God’s eyes, or do I actually have to believe all those things of God that I struggle to believe in? Wow. Tough questions. The kind of questions followers of Jesus shouldn’t be afraid to ask.
And leaving that conversation, two questions continued to grip me:
1. What does it mean to have faith, especially when times get hard?
2. How can I know that I have faith?
On Sunday I’ll share with you that one of the ways we can let God’s word transform us is by knowing the examples of heroes in the faith who have come before us. Paul writes in Hebrews 11:
1 Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see. 2 Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation. 3 By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen. It says that we can have faith, because those who came before us had faith. There is a common phrase that has been used for hundreds of years in the church called the light of faith. While the church today has often wrongly suggested that faith is a leap towards God, the light of faith suggests that faith is a journey which is illuminated by those who have gone before us. Ultimately, it is Jesus who embodies and carries that light. We do not have to take a jump of faith, we can just take one step up of faith. The way I see faith working in our own lives is that, when we’re faced with an obstacle that requires bold faith, we trust that God is going to provide what we need each day. We don’t worry about the chasm that is before us. We trust each step along the way. Any Indiana Jones might remember the ‘leap of faith’ scene from The Last Crusade — if you haven’t seen it, go watch it now: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sBBbq2g7yf8 I actually don’t like the phrase he uses. It’s not a leap of faith, its just one step of faith, but you get my point. Or in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. – “Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” To have faith, even when we might have reasons to doubt things we read in the Bible, requires us to trust that God’s word is true. And so we trust those who have had faith before us, and that is our guiding light of faith. Hebrews speaks of dozens of examples of this. I would encourage you to read all of Hebrews 11, then to read each of the heroes of faith it speaks about. The point of this list is to explicitly give examples of what faith can look like when we read and trust God’s work in and through others who have gone before us. The light of faith does not stop with the prophets and people God worked through in the Bible. It continues today.
In a world where people dismiss faith as ‘wishful thinking’, or simply identify it with the beliefs and practices of a particular religion, real faith is instead an active and living sort of faith, captured and recorded throughout all of history.
So a better word to speak over those who struggle to believe – is that faith does not require you to have complete understanding of everything in the Bible. All it requires is that you trust. Trust God has your best interest at heart. Trust those who have had faith before you.