Summary: We understand how to live by faith today, by seeing examples of how others have lived by faith before us.
Have you ever had one of those days? You know the type of days that I’m talking about—those days when everything goes wrong, your world falls apart, you throw your hands up in despair, and you simply want to quit. We all have them, even the congregation of believers to whom the letter to the Hebrews was written.
The community to whom Hebrews was written had undergone great hardship, including public ridicule, confiscation of property, and imprisonment (10:32-34). Because of the pressures put upon the community, some had apostatized (6:4-6), others avoided worship (10:25). Still others were weary of the suffering and disheartened by the delay in the coming of the Lord that would confirm their belief (3:14), a belief that came at great cost.
One of the issues that added to the struggle of this group of Christians was their misunderstanding of faith. They understood a life of faith to be a life of miracles—healing the sick, casting out demons, being bitten by poisonous snakes and surviving, and to live in conflict free fellowships. The writer of this letter seeks to clarify to them and to us what a life of faith is really like.
While growing up, I was often told to have faith in things that could not be proven or that seemed illogical. I was told to believe that Jonah was actually swallowed by a whale and survived in the highly acidic environment of the whale’s stomach underwater where there was no air, for three days. I was told to believe that Adam and Eve were miraculously created out of some dirt and a rib by the Creator God, and were the first man and woman. Later in their story I read that their son, Cain, fled from his family and eventually married a woman, who was not his sister from another clan. How could this be? I was told to believe that the Bible was without error, even though the gospels couldn’t agree on how many angels were in the tomb after Jesus’ resurrection. The greatest enemy of my faith was the doubt that screamed, “You’ve got to be kidding me!”
Later in life I realized that doubt was a part of faith. As I struggled to live a life of faith, and as I sought to learn more and to understand more clearly, doubt was a signal that I was actually growing in my faith.
Many people believe that faith is similar to wishful thinking. For these people, faith is seeing the glass as half full rather than half empty, finding the silver lining behind every cloud, and waking up believing that today is going to be better. I’m reminded of Little Orphan Annie singing “Tomorrow” at the top of her lungs. My intention is not to downplay optimism. Optimism is a necessary element in a happy life. I do want to emphasize, however, that faith is more—is bigger—than optimism. Faith is trust in a powerful, loving, gracious God.
The writer starts off this chapter with the definition that “Faith is the assurance (the substance and the core) of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” This is not a set of propositions that we are forced to believe. Faith is the basis on which we live our lives. As the writer says in verse 11, “Because he considered him faithful who had promised,” faith is a trust in a God who keeps his promises.