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Faith or Hope?

May 3, 2022

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, KJV).

I would only see him once since he was moving to his daughter’s home in another town. His wife had died, and he had just discovered his cancer. I evaluated him thoroughly and gave him hope that he might have several years to live. As he was about to leave, I asked if I might pray with him. He was happy to do so. As he was leaving, he said to me, “Thank you for the prayer.” Then he added, “Do you know what prayer does?” I answered briefly with my understanding of prayer. He ignored my reply as if he didn’t hear it and said, “Prayer takes hope and turns it into faith.”

“Prayer takes hope and turns it into faith.”

What’s the difference in hope and faith?

When this patient and most folks talk about hope, they use it as a synonym for “wish,” i.e. “I hope my office receipts will cover by my office bills this month,” or “I hope my patient’s lymph node is not malignant.” Such hope is important, for without it we would often settle into despair. But such hope is grounded in imagination that may or may not come true, and it will not last forever.

“The Worldly Hope men set their Hearts upon Turns Ashes—or it prospers; and anon, Like Snow upon the Desert’s dusty Face, Lighting a little Hour or two—is gone.”1

And then there is faith. Faith is taking hope and moving forward with confidence that the thing we hope for will come to pass. We’ve all heard the example: hope is thinking the chair will hold us, while faith is sitting down in the chair. Faith involves moving forward and acting out our hope with confidence that the outcome is assured. Faith is almost a verb coated with confidence.

Faith leads to action. The action that comes with faith may be kinetic, like the Christian healthcare professional who travels to Zambia to care for the broken. Or faith’s action might be terribly still, like the follower of Christ who bears an immense burden in ways that glorify God. Hope is grounded in imagination; faith is grounded in our relationship with the One who promises our future.

When we read of the Christian hope that Paul discusses in Romans 8:25-26 (and is mentioned by the writer of Hebrews 6:18-19), this hope is truly faith with another name, hope that looks forward with little doubt that the promise will come true, hope that is much stronger and more committed than worldly hope, hope that is truly faith.

Both hope and faith can sometimes suffer doubt, but the doubt of faith is transient and is eventually washed away by “the evidence of things not seen.”

“Prayer takes hope and turns it into faith,” my patient declared. What a magnificent transition.

Dear Father,
Let my hope in you work itself out as true faith.

1 Omar Khayyám, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

Al Weir, MD

Al Weir, MD

After leaving academic medicine, Dr. Weir served in private practice at the West Clinic in Memphis, Tennessee from 1991-2005 before joining the CMDA staff as Vice President of Campus & Community Ministries where he served for three years from 2005-2008. He is presently Professor of Medicine at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and Program Director for the Hematology/Oncology fellowship program. He is also President of Albanian Health Fund, an educational ministry to Albania where he has been serving for 20 years. He is the author of two books: When Your Doctor Has Bad News and Practice by the Book. Dr. Weir’s work has also been published in many medical journals and other publications. Al and his wife Becky live in Memphis, Tennessee, and they have three children and three grandchildren. Dr. Weir is currently serving on CMDA's Board of Trustees.

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