“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).
HOW STRONGLY WE REACH FORWARD TO HEAVEN IS DETERMINED BY HOW STRONGLY WE BELIEVE IT WILL ACTUALLY BE TRUE. If we’re not sure whether heaven exists, or if we’re just not concerned about it one way or the other, then we won’t exert ourselves very strongly in the direction of heaven. But if the reality of heaven is a conviction with us, we’ll reach forward to it fervently.
These days, many people define faith as “wishful thinking.” In their opinion, religious people only believe in heaven because they want to believe in it. But wanting something to be true makes it neither more nor less likely to be true. The only question worth asking is which side the superior evidence is on: the side of belief or the side of disbelief? The weight of the evidence is all that matters.
Our text in Hebrews 11:1 describes faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Genuine faith is the assurance of hoped-for things, not merely because one hopes for them but because one sees that they have a solid “substance,” that is, that they are “substantiated” in a sound way.
In 2 Corinthians 5:7, Paul says that Christians “walk by faith, not by sight.” Christians are a trusting people. They live their daily lives on the principle of trust, willing, because of solid evidence, to stake everything on the reality of God and salvation and heaven.
I have sometimes heard people speak of belief in heaven as the “safe” course to follow. The argument runs something like this: if heaven turns out to be real, then the believer will have his hope, but if it turns out otherwise, the believer will be in no worse shape than anyone else. But I believe we can do much better than think of heaven as a safe bet. We can weigh the evidence and make our choice in favor of an idea that is so strong in its probability that we can be confident of it. For now, heaven (and hell too) may be, as the Hebrew writer says, “not seen,” but unseen does not mean unreal. The immortality of our souls is a great possibility, to say the least. But faith sees that it is more than a possibility: it is the great reality.
“As the essence of courage is to stake one’s life on a possibility, so the essence of faith is to believe that the possibility exists” (William Salter).