Monday, June 29, 2015

The Mystery of Faith

Your physical eyes 
and your intellect 
are not sufficient  
to sustain you 
on this journey 
nor through these storms 

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

How is it possible to be assured of things hoped for?  The very nature of hope involves the not presently having that which is hoped for.  Being certain of that which is hoped for is almost an oxymoron.  The two generally don’t go together.  

Can one have evidence for that which cannot be seen?  Evidence is by nature something that can be witnessed.  For example; evidence in the courtroom is either something tangible like pictures, video, fingerprints or it is the testimony of a witness who saw or heard something relevant to the case.  Can you imagine going to court and only being able to rely only upon evidence that did not fit into either of these two categories?   

Intangible evidence and certain hope  

Could it be that faith is something that cannot be carefully explained sufficiently enough clear away the fog of mystery?  Could it be that mystery itself is a distinct characteristic of faith in the God who cannot be seen?  Could it be that faith is the mysterious means with which to relate to the mysterious Holy Spirit, God with us?    

It is not surprising that mystery abounds here for God is not seen, yet He is and has been believed in by countless people around the world both today and throughout history.  How does one relate to the God who is not seen?  Not with physical eyes, nor with intellect alone, but by something that God alone gives, namely faith.  It is a glorious grace that we may know God via the gift of faith that God alone gives.  He gives that which we need to know Him, and that apart from which we may never truly know Him. 

The 11th chapter of Hebrews, the famous “Faith” chapter begins with an interesting yet fairly mysterious definition of faith in verse one.  Yet it is noteworthy that after this brief definition, more effort is not given to further illuminate what this faith is exactly.  In stead of further defining this perplexing topic, the author of Hebrews instead resorts to a masterful historical list of what faith in the unseen God looks like when put into practice.  This beautiful chapter of Scripture is powerful in its description of many who displayed their faith in God via their actions.  

The Apostle Paul, who taught extensively on the massive importance of faith, turns to the Old Testament to illustrate and explain this topic.  Abraham is Paul’s subject to highlight the nature of the faith that justifies.  “Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness.”  Three times this text is referenced, first in Genesis 15:6, and then by Paul in Romans 4:3 and Galatians 3:6.  That this incident is thrice recorded in scripture is no doubt indicative of significant importance.  

The story of Abraham begins with him as a pagan living among pagans, when he is encountered by God.  This encounter is such that from the very beginning of this relationship, God gives Abraham instruction.  Almost as if one of the partners in this relationship was God, and the other a subordinate follower…  Maybe this is the pattern that would be repeated throughout time.  This relationship was initiated by God and followed by Abraham.  It is worthy of notice that the instruction given to Abraham was one that was both uncomfortable and mysterious.  “Go… to the land that I will show you.” (Gen. 12:1)  This required packing up and leaving the familiar, leaving family and friends behind, drastically impacting the lives of others who would go with him, and all while not knowing where it was exactly that he was going. 

God asked of Abraham the impossible.  Twice.  

Faith was the means that resulted in Abraham’s obedience to the unseen God.  He saw that which could not be seen.  He believed when the odds were insurmountable.  Faith beholds God beyond the impossible.  Faith trusts the God who is bigger than the trial.  Faith grabs ahold of God when there is nothing else to hold onto.  


Faith is how battered Job endured absolute devastation, one minute at a time.  How could Job have weathered such colossal personal tragedies otherwise?  

The Church Throughout History

Faith was the means with which William Tyndale translated a significant portion of the Bible into English, despite death threats from the King.  By faith he persevered in this task until he was killed for his faithful obedience to the assignment of God.

Faith was the rock that Martin Luther stood upon as he confronted the only church of the day.  By faith he believed God’s Word though everyone else in the church, it seemed, believed many things contrary.  By faith he battled theologically, living as a fugitive and translating scripture into the language of the people.  By faith he persevered until the Protestant Reformation was birthed. 

Faith was the weapon with which William Wilberforce and friends waged war against the evils of the slave trade for many decades.  They battled the socially accepted wickedness decade after decade until that great foe was vanquished from England, and ultimately America as well.  

Faith was the motivation with which countless missionaries left comfort and country for suffering, tragedy, and the unspeakable joy of spreading the Gospel throughout the world.

Faith was the furnace that forged a Nation that would become One Nation Under God.  Freedom to pursue a relationship with God, unsanctioned by the Government was the fuel that fired this great forge.  America was literally birthed through faith in God.  

Faith was the morning light that shown through the former slave Frederick Douglas and many others in America to overthrow the lengthy midnight of slavery.  

Faith was the courage that gripped Dietrich Bonhoeffer and many others like him to combat the evils of the Nazi regime.  Faith would not permit these to succumb to the comfortable apathy of countless others who filled the pews in Germany.  Faith was action and speaking, thus lack of action and silence a lack of faith.  

Time nor ink would permit an exhaustive list, yet suffice it to say that eternity will provide enough time with which to learn of all the courageous battles of faith throughout history, and of the faithful God apart from which no such endeavors would exist.

You and I

What does faith look like in your life?  Is it like Job, trusting minute by minute in the goodness of God, while the hurricane rages?  Is it like Abraham, journeying without knowing where you will end up, or how or what you will end up doing?  

Has He called you to something?  If so, chances are that circumstances will be significantly difficult enough that it will take His faith to believe Him.  Your physical eyes and your intellect are not sufficient to sustain you on this journey nor through these storms.  Faith alone in Christ alone is the only way to follow wherever He leads, to weather the treacherous storms of life, and to arrive at your much hoped for destination.   

“And without faith it is impossible to please Him”
Hebrews 11:6a (ESV)

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