What meaning of “faith” makes the statement “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen” true? Can “faith” in this context possibly refer to a purely intellectual assent to an abstract proposition? Or does it need to mean something other or additional to that? This seems like the main question to wrestle with as we are studying Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 on Sunday, August 8. That is: what does the word “faith” refer to? Is that the kind of faith we mean when we say we ourselves have faith?
Some notes on the text are here. Here are a few more questions we might want to think about or discuss in class:
What do we normally mean by “assurance”? How does the statement in v1 fit with that?
What do we normally mean by “evidence”? What kind of evidence do we like to have of things, what are our usual standards for evidence? How does the statement in v1 fit with that?
In verses 8-12, the author uses the experience of Abraham, or of Abraham and Sarah, as an illustration of faith. What are the important elements of Abraham’s and Sarah’s story for us? What do we learn from it? What makes their story relevant for us, do we think?
In v9, and vv13-14, the author emphasizes the idea of the “sojourner,” someone who is temporarily living in a place that is not “theirs.” What makes sojourning a metaphor for faith? What does it reveal about the situation of living “by faith”?
[More personal] Do we know any actual sojourners? Or have we ever been actual sojourners? Or do we ourselves ever feel like sojourners? In what way? When, or in what circumstances? Why is that? What light does the actual experience of sojourning cast on the meaning of “faith” in this text?
[Still more personal] Does feeling like a sojourner feel like a positive thing to us? Or not? What are the advantages, and the disadvantages, do we think? Does this seem like a perception that we ought to cultivate? Why, or why not?
Overall, the author here emphasizes some important contrasts: between what is visible and what is invisible, between present and future, and implicitly between belonging “here” and belonging elsewhere. Exploring those contrasts, and the value we place on each term of those contrasts, would be worthwhile. Do we find ourselves enthusiastically affirming the consciousness of the author of Hebrews, or do we have reservations – and if so, what are those reservations, and what do they say about us?
Image: “Spannende Lektüre,” Walther Firle, 1929, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.