What does it mean to live “by faith”? What does it mean to live in hope?
Think of the Scriptures as a grand story of what God’s been doing since creation, and will continue to do until the day that the new creation is complete. Faith means living inside that story. Hope means living toward the future that story tells.
“Faith is the reality of what we hope for,” the writer of Hebrews tells us, “the proof of what we don’t see” (Heb 11:1, CEB). The hard reality of what we do see troubles us, but we must cling to the reality of what we can’t see. The world might accuse us of being unrealistic. But our response must be: It depends on what you take as really real.
By faith, we live inside the story of the God who creates and redeems and restores. “It’s impossible to please God without faith,” the writer of Hebrews continues, “because the one who draws near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards people who try to find him” (11:6).
There are some things here we can’t afford to miss.
“It’s impossible to please God without faith.” I have to admit: I cringe a little at the language. Take the word “faith” out of the sentence: “Without ___, it is impossible to please God.” If you didn’t already know the verse, what would you put in the blank? “Sacrificial service,” perhaps? Maybe, “reading your Bible every day”? Or “going to church every Sunday”? Or “regular prayer”? Or “tithing,” or maybe even “driving the church bus”?
Don’t get me wrong: there’s nothing wrong with any of these things, taken by themselves. But taken together, they send the message that God is impossible to please, period. You can do everything you know to be the Christian you’re supposed to be. And somehow, there may still lurk a dark doubt: It’s not enough. I’m not enough.
That, of course, is precisely what the writer of Hebrews is not saying.
He begins by connecting the dots in an obvious way: You can’t draw near if you don’t believe that he exists (big theological duh). We need faith to please God, not because we need to squeeze ourselves into his favor, but because it makes no sense to even try unless we can believe in things we can’t see.
The second part, however, is more important: we need to believe that “he rewards people who try to find him.”
We could, of course, take “finding” as one more thing we have to do to please a God that is impossible to please. Let someone break “finding” down into ten practical steps, and we’ll put them on our to-do list.
Or we could recognize that what the writer is trying to do is describe our heavenly Father as a God worth seeking. The message is not, “God is stingy, so here’s what you need to do to make him happy.” The message is, “God is a rewarder. That’s the kind of God you should seek with everything you’ve got.”
I suspect that we know what faith is, but struggle to believe what we say we believe. We say we believe in the matchless grace of God, but live as if our worth depended on our works. We say we believe in unconditional love, then live as if we found fine print in the contract. We say we believe in resurrection, but live as if the life we have in this world is the only one we’re given.
By faith, we believe in the existence of a God we can’t see with our eyes. By faith, we believe that he is who he says he is, a rewarder, a giver of gifts, one who wants us to grow into the fullness of Jesus but at every moment loves us fully and unconditionally for who we are.
Whatever doubts you have about yourself, about your life, can you grab onto that impossible truth?
God. Loves. You.
By faith, we inhabit the story of God, this God and no other. Not the god of talent or success, nor of comfort and stability, nor of productivity and accomplishment. And most certainly not the god of needing to be God ourselves. We inhabit the story of a God who created the universe in love, who made creatures in his image to love, who pursues them when they run, who redeems, remakes, restores, and promises a future when death will die and pain and suffering will be no more.
By faith, we believe in things we cannot see with our eyes. But here’s the thing. When we participate in a community of faith, a strange thing happens. Faith produces things we can see with our eyes: changed lives, people who do and say hopeful things even when the situation seems hopeless. And that gives us even more reasons to believe.
By faith. It’s how we’re called to live.
It’s how we find the life God wants for us.