“Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.”
Today's second reading from Hebrews 11 begins with these words. They can slip by easily so that we hardly notice them, but they merit a close examination because they help us understand the meaning of faith.
To begin, let's look at the Greek words in this sentence. The definitions below come from greattreasures.org.
* Faith – pistis – “firm persuasion, the conviction which is based upon hearing, not upon sight...”; “the trust which one entertains or puts in a person or thing”; “a conviction based upon trust, not upon knowledge”
* Realization – hupostasis - “confidence”; “a standing under; that which is set or stands under, a foundation, origin, beginning, hence, spoken of that quality which leads one to stand under, endure or undertake anything, for example firmness, boldness, confidence, then, the foundation or ground of this confidence, well-founded trust”; “that which has foundation”; “that which has actual existence; a substance, real being”
* What is hoped for – elpizomenōn – what is expected and trusted
* Evidence – elenchos – “demonstration, proof, convincing argument”
* Of things – pragmatōn – “a thing done or to be done; deed, act, fact, matter”
* Not seen – ou blepomenōn – “to use the eyes; to see, look; used of the act of seeing, even though nothing is seen; to observe accurately with desire”
What stands out in these definitions is confidence. Faith has confidence. Faith trusts that something is real, even if it cannot be seen. Faith is firmly persuaded of reality. Faith is a true foundation for hope. Faith offers convincing evidence that there is more to life than what our senses tell us.
But faith is even more. According to the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, faith must be lived out if it is to be real. It cannot remain on a merely psychological or emotional level. It has to be put into action. The author holds up Abraham as an example of this lived faith.
Abraham heard God telling him to leave his native country and journey into parts unknown, to a promised land far away. Abraham believed God. He had faith, and he put his faith into action. He didn't just sit back and say, “Yes, God, I believe you,” and stay put. He moved. He left behind everything familiar and began a new life.
Abraham's living faith didn't end there. He believed when God told him that he would have a son, even though he and Sarah were both old. He acted on that belief, and sure enough, they had Isaac.
Abraham even took his faith one step further. God told him to sacrifice Isaac, his only son. Abraham had faith that God could do anything, even raise someone from the dead, so he acted. He took Isaac up Mount Moriah, prepared an altar, laid his son on it, and raised his knife. Just in time, an angel called out to Abraham, telling him not to do the least thing to his son. He had passed the test. He had put his faith into action to the maximum extent.
Faith, then, is “the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen,” but it is also something that must be actively lived, day in, day out, with all the challenges, risks, and rewards that a life of faith entails.