Magazine letter for August 2021

How often does someone say 'you are so lucky to have a faith'. I have never really been sure what they mean by that.

Does faith Help?

How often does someone say ‘you are so lucky to have a faith’. I have never really been sure what they mean by that. In what way ‘lucky’? Do they mean it is some kind of guarantee against the difficulties life throws our way? Clearly that isn’t true. And what do they mean by ‘faith’?

According to the letter to the Hebrews: ‘Faith is the assurance of things hoped for; the conviction of things not seen.’ At least that is the translation in most bibles and rolls off the tongue quite well. However, it isn’t what the author wrote. I won’t labour you with the Greek but a more literal translation would be, ‘Now is faith of things being hoped reality – of things proof not being seen.’

Ok, now you know I’ve gone mad, turned by too long in the sun. This is supposed to be a fairly light and easily digestible letter fit for all. Fair enough, but there is an important point in all this which is worth a little bit of work for the little grey cells.

What has happened is that the sentence no longer makes the obvious statement that faith involves confidence about things that cannot be presently verified ie., ‘the assurance of things hoped for’. What it really seems to say is that faith already anticipates the final outcome, the reality, of what it believes – ‘faith is the reality of what is hoped’. Faith makes real the hope. 

And it goes further – faith isn’t just a ‘conviction of things not seen’, but a ‘proof of things not seen.’ Faith becomes its own proof.

So this famous sentence in Hebrews is not just a neat but unexciting definition of faith but an alarming and highly provocative claim that faith itself, ‘moves in the direction of the realization of those things that are presently beyond demonstration.’

This all sounds terribly New Age and dangerous – we could believe we could fly, jump off a tower and find out otherwise! But that would be to lose all sense of context, and faith, like everything else in our world, has to be understood in its context.

The context of this daring statement in Hebrews is life lived with faith in God, in the rule or kingdom of God. And what Jesus said is have faith in the kingdom of God and you will make it real – here and now. Live values of the kingdom – be forgiving, compassionate, generous, etc. – then you will bring it into existence. It becomes real around you.

Impossibly idealistic, nobody will ever give it a try? Well, think of St Francis, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Guru Nanak, anyone you have ever thought truly insightful and compassionate. Didn’t they have the faith to put their life where their beliefs were? Didn’t they bring the kingdom of God around them making ‘things hoped, real – things not seen, proved.’ They weren’t lucky in the sense of escaping the realities of life, quite the reverse, but they did make a difference.

It’s worth a thought. If you think that your faith hasn’t really helped you, ask yourself, have you really tried it yet?


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