Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
- Hebrews 11:1
Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.
- New American Bible (NAB)
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
- New International Version (NIV)
I love this reading. It’s the most direct explanation of faith in the New Testament, and though it’s not meant to be a precise definition, per se, it teaches us something remarkably important about it. Faith is more than an on/off switch. It is more than whether you think God is real or not. Faith is not a synonym of belief.
Faith is a gift and it’s a response. It is a mystical part of us that forms up around our hope and orients on the awesome. It is our ground-work, the foundation upon which we walk. It is the strength upon which we build up our belief, because it allows us to look at the numinous, the ineffable, and give us the strength of will to answer yes. It is God’s hand reaching down to us and saying, “It’s okay to believe.”
I think that’s what I love most about faith. It doesn’t come from us. It, like all of our great gifts, comes from God. We are asked to take it, be thankful for it, and offer it back to him. When we don’t have faith, what we’re really doing is turning away that gift, and that, in a nutshell, is true free will. God offers us something and we can choose to accept it or not. The rest of what we call freedom is an illusion, but I’ll write more on that another day.
The key term that causes such a differentiation in the translation of this verse is the Greek word “hypostasis”. A much more in-depth analysis of the various translations is available here.