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Faith: Noah’s faith to move

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

Hebrews 11:1 is one of the best-known verses in all of Holy scripture.

We’ll suppose the author was Paul, as most experts seem to largely assume — though historically there is some question as to whether it was the great convert, missionary Apostle and epistle-writer who did pen the magnificent letter to the Hebrews. Whoever it was, he’s quite a ways into his monumental missive when he comes to this dynamic observation and teaching.



Paul defines faith: The substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

And we who love the scriptures have clung to that verse for generations. But do we really understand it? I don’t think we can be faulted if not — for all Paul’s eloquence, he could occasionally word things a bit confusingly (or, perhaps, the translators to English upon whom we rely were particularly loquacious in their scribing). This is no exception.



Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Let’s break down this sentence grammatically, first. I’d submit that it’s a sort of compound sentence, the subject of each part being the same: Faith. Under that suggestion, we are to understand that faith is two things — first, faith is the substance of things hoped for, and second, faith is the evidence of things not seen.

What does that mean?

Fortunately, Paul illuminates and illustrates this somewhat murky saying with the following verses. The remainder of Chapter 11 is full of examples of the sort of faith about which Paul is teaching. Working through the scriptural record from the very beginning, he pulls out well-known story after story, accounts of faithful men and women who demonstrated faith. In so doing, he better explains his definition.

Each story, and there are about 20 distinct examples, depending on how you count them, helps outline Paul’s teaching. I’d like to look at one in particular, found in verse 7.

“By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house….”

Here is Noah, a prophet as we’ll recall, to whom God spoke, warning of an impending flood that would drown the Earth. Instructed by God to build an enormous boat, an ark, and to gather all kinds of animals into it along with his family, Noah famously obeyed. We know the story. It worked out for Noah. It didn’t work out for everyone else.

But why did Noah build the ark? Yes, he “walked with God,” and yes, his relationship with the Almighty was notably close. But that didn’t mean Noah could see the future. It didn’t mean Noah didn’t have reason to doubt his visions and visitations from the Lord.

Imagine yourself in Noah’s place. A father of three in a wicked world, told in some sort of communication from a deity in whom few people if any, save your immediate family, still believed, and whom nobody but you had ever seen, you are given an enormous task to undertake. That task, the scriptures inform us, took 100 years to complete. It was no small feat, even for 500- and eventually 600-year-old Noah.

Not to mention he was living in a society that gave him essentially zero reason to trust his own singular experience with God — and every reason to doubt it.

Are you so confident you’d be like Noah? I’m not. But, as Paul points out, Noah was faithful.

But how, exactly, was Noah faithful? He’d walked with God. He’s interacted directly with Heaven. Did he really need faith to accomplish what he’d been told to do?

I’m here to back up Paul. Noah needed faith as much as any of us do and maybe more. He was told to do something that was, objectively, unfathomably enormous and, subjectively, frankly kind of crazy. It didn’t change anything that he had walked beside the Lord Himself. Noah had to believe that what this entity with whom he was interacting was: A, real; B, trustworthy; and C, not leading him down the wrong path.

Noah accomplished his monumental task not because he had seen God, but because he was faithful. Having received God’s warning, “By faith, Noah … moved with fear.”

He trusted that He who was speaking would keep his seemingly impossible promises. And his trust led him to act against the “better judgment” of the world and do something that he’d never have otherwise done.

This is critical. This is faith.

Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

What did Noah hope for? He hoped that God’s promise that He was planning to flood the earth — and that by building a massive ark Noah could save his family and the creatures of the earth — was true. It’s not our normal definition of hope, but it’s hope nonetheless. It’s expectation of a future which we have never seen and cannot see until it is upon us.

What was the substance of that hope? It was action. That is faith.

What were the things not seen, or what didn’t Noah see? He didn’t see the future. He didn’t see the flood. He didn’t see God fulfilling His unthinkable promise. But he trusted God’s word. He had faith in God.

We aren’t called to build an ark. We aren’t commanded to gather the creatures of the earth, two by two. But we are commanded in other things, and, while these are not as outwardly grandiose as ship construction and world-wide zoo-keeping, they are still great requests of us. We are called to love God with all our hearts, to love our neighbors as ourselves, and we are commanded to abstain from our most natural, innate human urges and temptations.

Like Noah, these are massive asks. Each of us has an ark in our lives; some more than one. Each of us is being called to do something we can’t fathom doing, and each of us has every reason in the world not to do it.

But if we have faith like Noah, in spite of all the obstacles, all the adversarial pulls upon us and all the perfectly convincing reasons not to, we will follow God. The substance of our hope will win out, and we will demonstrate evidence of trust in that future salvation which we have never seen.

And by faith — and faith alone — as it is promised, we’ll be saved.


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