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"Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen"

Does this quote sound strange? Is it possible to "confidently hope" for something? Don't those words oppose each other a bit?

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  • It seems like "confidence" refers to ~expectation~ (expected high probability of outcome) while "hope" refers to ~desire~ (preferred outcome) - To the degree there is a difference between "expected" and "preferred" I see a distinct difference. You can say "I expect to lose but prefer to win" . When you both expect and prefer , the proverb labels that faith. (or I read it that way)
    – Tom22
    May 11, 2017 at 18:47
  • It's a bit of a play on words, but it sorta makes sense.
    – Hot Licks
    May 15, 2017 at 17:46

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Yes. This is a paraphrase of Hebrews 11:1: "Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see." Non-Christians see this as simple wishful thinking. Christians find all kind of deep theology in it, which you could probably discover by cross-posting to the christian stack-exchange. Here is an essay that discusses this.

But from an English perspective, there is a genuine ambiguity in the definition of the word "faith". Faith can mean choosing to believe something despite a lack of evidence; it can also mean having confidence in.

A phrase like "I have faith in you" is generally understood in this second context, and is viewed as a positive thing.

"I belief in X because I just have faith" is the former, and has an implication of a rejection of rationality and evidence.

The phrase you quote is almost a play on words in that it brings together both meanings to some extent. In a normal understanding "confidently hope" does seem like an oxymoron though.

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It sounds strange only because the word hope has lost much of its force since 1611 when it was used to translate the Greek text of the Bible in the King James Version (which not-so-incidentally is where your quote is derived from...see Hebrews 11:1 in the New Testament).

If you check the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, both noun and verb forms of hope used to mean to have trust and confidence. The dictionary lists the current sense of hope you are familiar with (i.e. I really wish this would happen but know it probably won't) to be an ironic sense. See below.

1 Expectation of something desired, a feeling of expectation and desire combined (in pl. also with sing. sense); iron. an expectation which has little or no chance of fulfillment. (SOED)

I suspect that people over time have put their hope in many things that have let them down and the ironic sense has taken over -- I hope I win the lottery. I hope the Indians win the World Series this year. Etc.

But, as quoted in the Bible, the archaic definition of a rock-solid confidence in a future event is what you'll want to think of. Many believers over the ages have proven that hope in God does not disappoint.* (see comments)

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  • "Many believers over the ages have proven that hope in God does not disappoint"? What is the support for this claim?
    – Dr Xorile
    May 12, 2017 at 22:48
  • @Dr Xorile - The remaining chapter of Hebrews 11 details a dozen plus individuals who proved that. The intent of the writer that the OP quotes from is to show many such examples.
    – thomj1332
    May 15, 2017 at 13:00
  • That would, therefore, be a better statement than "Many believers over the ages..." in the sense that it is supportable. Currently, it reads like a statement of belief.
    – Dr Xorile
    May 15, 2017 at 17:33
  • @Dr Xorile - Duly noted. I will edit my answer to refer to the notes.
    – thomj1332
    May 15, 2017 at 17:37

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