What is Faith?
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen . . . By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. Hebrews 11:1,7
In treatment eight years ago for my own drug addiction, I desperately turned to God. I’d lost my job and my family was falling apart. So, I went to God, asking him what I must do to find recovery. He answered that I needed to work at abandoning myself to follow him every day for the rest of my life. I had some inkling that this was going to radically change my life in ways that had nothing directly to do with my addiction. So, I tried to bargain with God. If I do this, I need a guarantee that I’ll get my family and my job back.
I don’t think God laughed mockingly at me, but I think he probably smiled in amusement. I didn’t hear an audible voice, but I did clearly understand that God would guarantee none of those things. He told me I needed to follow him because it was the only way out of my addiction. I needed to follow him because he was the only adequate answer to my life’s greatest needs. I needed to follow him because he had my best interests in mind – which could be contrary to what I wanted. I was not guaranteed my family and job back, but still, God told me to obey.
That was the first time in my life that I remember truly practicing faith – being radically obedient to God simply because I believed in him. Previously, I’d understood that faith meant believing something really, really hard. I thought it meant getting my mind to somehow remove all doubt. Through my addiction though, I realized that doubt wasn’t my problem. Obedience was. I needed to obey, even if I had doubts. If I truly believed in God, I needed to follow him, even when the future looked like an absolute disaster to me.
Today’s passage reinforces this concept. In it, faith is defined as a belief in a future that we cannot know or see. God told Noah to build an ark. Noah obeyed . . . for years, without any evidence that it made sense. Others saw him as insane, and Noah himself must have had doubts as the decades slipped by. But he believed in God and his behavior followed.
That is faith – belief turned into action. We can believe in God and still follow ourselves. That’s not faith. Faith only happens when we allow our belief to steer the course of our lives. Faith is a behavior, not simply a belief.