Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Misguided Hope

A few years ago, I was in a Bible study with some new believers. One night we were examining Matthew 17. When we came to verse 20, which reads: "If you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you," one of the girls in the study suddenly blurted out, "That's not true!"

We were all quite stunned by the outburst, but I asked her to elaborate. She explained that as her grandmother lay dying in a hospital, she prayed to God earnestly to let her grandmother live. "It says here to have faith as a mustard seed, but I had much more faith than that! She died anyway. It doesn't work." I asked her to define for me what she meant by "having a lot of faith." She said faith was believing with all your might. I explained to her that the reason her grandmother died was because she didn't have any faith. Instead, she had described hope. We like to think these words are synonymous, but there is a difference.

I once heard Charles Stanley give an excellent illustration of faith, based on the actual definition given in Hebrews 11:1. The Bible defines faith as the "evidence" of things unseen. Faith requires actual evidence! If you do not have evidence that something is true, yet choose to believe it anyway, you do not have faith. My friend in the Bible study was told her grandmother was dying. She had every reason in the world to believe her grandmother would not live, yet she blindly chose to ignore the evidence. She became disappointed when her grandmother passed, even though she "believed with all her heart" she would live. The result? She grew angry with God, feeling as though He had betrayed her. Friend, haven't we all been there?

Some of us are growing weary in our faith because we are choosing to base our trust in God solely upon our hopes, and not upon what He has actually promised:
Faith: Jesus is coming back soon. (Evidence: He actually said so.)
Hope: Jesus is coming back today. (Evidence: None.)

Faith: Jesus died to save sinners (Evidence: The Bible tells us this is true.)
Hope: My father will one day be saved. (Evidence: None.)

Faith: God will supply all my needs. (Evidence: Scripture, past examples of how God has been faithful to me.)
Hope: God will supply me with a husband. (Evidence: None).

Hope is a wonderful thing. It fuels our faith and keeps it fresh. But it is not the same thing as faith. If we learn to separate God's promises from our desires, we will find that our walk with Him will be much more sweet and satisfying.

The difference between hope and faith can also be noted by the fact that two distinct words were used to describe these two terms in the original Greek. Take, for instance, 1 Corinthians 13:13, which advises us to abide in faith, hope, and love. The Greek word for faith is pistis, which means something that is true or gives an assurance. The word for hope, on the other hand, is elpis, which means an anticipation, usually with pleasure.

Here's another example: is your husband a Christian? Is there some sin in his life you wish he'd repent of? Have faith. God promises in Philippians 1:6 that He will complete the work He began in your husband. But if you stop expecting God to do great things, your faith will become nothing more than a dry knowledge, instead of an exciting, passionate anticipation of what God is doing in your life and your husband's life.

By the way, when we consider this difference between faith and hope, we can safely assert that there is no such thing as the Hindu faith, the Muslim faith, the Baha'i Faith, the Jewish Faith, the Catholic Faith, the Protestant Faith, etc. Religion is a man-made system of wishful thinking. Those who put their trust in religion can only hope in an afterlife. Those who put their trust in Christ have faith that He is actually preparing a place for us. This is why there is only one faith: The Christian Faith. Anything else is just misguided hope.

For further reading on the subject of faith and hope, see this prior post.

4 comments:

Natasa said...

great post, Jen... yes, many people mix faith and hope and after blame God for their unfilled desire...

Betsy Markman said...

Very interesting and thought-provoking. I, too, believe that much of what is called "Faith" is just a mystical belief in the power of positive thinking, not faith in God.
I ask this not to be argumentative, but to get a better understanding of your point. How do we start with "faith IS evidence," and end up with "Faith REQUIRES evidence?"
Thanks in advance for your reply.

Jennifer said...

Hi, Betsy. I think if I understand your question correctly, you are referring to paragraph 3. What I meant was, evidence is required in order to classify faith as faith. I was actually using the two terms interchangeably, but I see how that could be unclear. Is this what you were asking?

Some translations of the Hebrews 11:1 say that faith is the assurance of things unseen. Other terms used are conviction and substance. I like "substance" too, it shows us that faith is not fluff. I believe something because it is true. This is different from the idea that something is true because I believe it. I hope that makes sense! I am not good at explaining things sometimes. :)

D-Rock & NG said...

Hey,

This was great reading! I understand the two differently now. I know know that I had mixed them up in the past!

Thanks,

Angie