What is Faith?
It’s not a simple question. For us, the answer to that question begins with Genesis … and never really ends.
As I’ve said before, Faith defines how we see ourselves, who and what we choose to have relationships with, and what we envision our end (and the eventual end of all Creation) to be. Faith helps us make sense of the events and circumstances that shape us and our world. It lays out a path for us to follow into the future. Faith enables us to gaze into the infinite and the unknowable and find a place there for ourselves. It helps us make sense of the mystery of God and the vastness and beauty of Creation. And, it enables us to exist in a world of uncertainty and change.
A lot has been written on the topic of Faith; not just the in Bible, but in everything from Hamlet or Pilgrim’s Progress, to Harry Potter and Star Trek. We admire those who have faith, and we honor those who die for their faith. We seek to encourage faith in others, and our faith impels us to minister to those in need. Faith is a powerful thing, and central to our existence, even though we may have a hard time defining exactly what it is.
The 11th chapter of the Book of Hebrews is a profound response to the question of “What is Faith?” Hebrews is unique, no other book in the Bible is quite like it. It reads like an old time evangelist’s sermon: full of color, movement, stirring imagery and ringing phrases that were meant to be memorable when spoken. We are familiar with many of those phrases, such as: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen” – and – “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” – or – “Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith”.
Much of its Theology is subtle, but the delivery isn’t, nor was it intended to be. The author was addressing a community in crisis. The people had lost their faith, and had no hope in their future. The author intended to stir them up; re-awaken their faith; and help them reclaim God’s hope and plan for themselves, their community, and their future.
Chapter 11 is where the evangelist reaches the crescendo of their message. I imagine them preaching it: arms waving in the air, voice thundering, starting each new thought with the ringing phrase “By Faith” …
By Faith Abraham obeyed when he was called … (and)
By Faith he and his descendants dwelt in the land God promised them, even though they did not yet possess it… (and)
By Faith Abraham believed God’s promise of descendants, despite he and Sarah being far too old to procreate…