Saturday, February 12, 2011

An Assurance of Things Hoped For

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2For by it the people of old received their commendation. 
                                                           --Hebrews 11:1
I think the book of Hebrews, a New Testament book, is perhaps one of the more eloquently written books in the Bible. Verse one in the eleventh chapter is one of the more commonly quoted passages.  It does not so much define faith, as it expresses the nature of living with it.  As I read the eleventh chapter again, I was struck by two things.  One is that the author takes us through an impressive list of Biblical characters in whom he sees faith being lived out.  The selection is not really surprising.  The big names are included, and arguably it is their examples for which scripture was composed and given to us as models by which to live.  The second observation I had was that the phrase, "but they are dead" repeats like a musical refrain.  In each of the characters we are given a vignette into the hope they lived by while alive, and then in their deaths an evidence of things unseen -- namely, that in each one's footsteps arises another person of faith.

John Calvin writes:
Then these two things, though apparently inconsistent, do yet perfectly harmonize when we speak of faith; for the Spirit of God shows to us hidden things, the knowledge of which cannot reach our senses: Promised to us is eternal life, but it is promised to the dead; we are assured of a happy resurrection, but we are as yet involved in corruption; we are pronounced just, as yet sin dwells in us; we hear that we are happy, but we are as yet in the midst of many miseries; an abundance of all good things is promised to us, but still we often hunger and thirst; God proclaims that he will come quickly, but he seems deaf when we cry to him.  (Commentary on Hebrews)
There is this constant both-and quality to faith with which all Christians struggle.  We live knowing faith is bigger and better than what we have now -- Christ will come again!  Yet, there is the invisibility of faith at times when living our more difficult daily realities.

The evolving Christian church at the time of Hebrews carried an accepted assumption that when Jesus had said He would come again, it would be in their lifetime.  Many dropped out of living altogether simply to wait for His coming.  The writer of Hebrews is seeing through that assumption and giving examples of all those who carried on in faith even though they are now dead.  The message is: "Life in faith moves on, and you should do the same."  Life is not going to sit still, and faith is not going magically zap away the harder elements in living we each get tossed at us.  But like Moses and Abraham...and prophets and Apostles...and martyrs and saints... and our parents and even you and I we have a conviction not seen, and which, ultimately, is the only thing that can matter.

Our Father, give us this day our daily bread...Amen.

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