Just a quick post today about Faith. I just finished a one-week intensive course this past week on the letter to the Hebrews, and while I have a lot to say about it all, I think I need some more time to work it out (as I’m still writing the paper for the course). In the meantime, a quick word about Faith, the definition of which is the most famous verse from Hebrews (11:1).
“Now, faith is to be sure of what we hope for, and to be certain of what we cannot see.” That’s how the NIV renders it, but the KJV reflects the more substantial nature of the word, translating it as “substance”. We very often have this notion tha faith is the opposite of reason, a stubborn clinging to vain hopes in spite of reason or evidence to the contrary. Christians are often derided for their faith, and if that’s what faith is, I say rightfully so! If that’s what faith is, then its synonym would be “naievety” or “stupidity” or “stubborn blindness”; I apologize if that’s offensive, but as Christians we’ve been sold an anti-intellectual lie that says that faith is blind. That’s not what’s being said here!
Hebrews makes frequent reference to the coming rewards that the members of the addressed church will receive if they hold firm to their confession and their Christian community. It uses terms that contrast the goods and valuables we have here on earth with those we’ll receive, like “better and lasting possessions” and “the promised reward”. These promises are really pointing us toward the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God here on earth, the fulfillment of Jesus’ constant preaching, the fulfillment of the Christian hope. No matter what we’re enduring, we need to know that we aren’t enduring in vain; that which we hope for has been guaranteed by one who is trustworthy – in Hebrews, he is described as our great High Priest. Jesus is entirely trustworthy, and on his guarantee (and that of the Holy Spirit in us) we have certainty of that which we hope for. The Kingdom of Heaven is not a vain hope against all evidence, because we have faith in one who is trustworthy, and he has promised it, even if we cannot see it clearly yet.
Jesus preached that the Kingdom of Heaven “is at hand”, yet obviously the world is not ruled by Jesus yet. His apostles preached that it will soon be fulfilled, but there is also a sense in which it already is. Theologians often refer to this as the “already/not yet”: Jesus has come, and brought the Kingdom of God with him, but in many ways we’re still waiting for it. It has been inaugurated, but not consummated. How can this be? Through faith.
We know that the Kingdom of God has come, it has begun, it was brought into this world by Jesus – but we don’t see it, and obviously the whole world isn’t subjected to it. But we know that it will come when Jesus returns, and we know this because he said so. However, while we’re still waiting for it to be consummated, we can still live in the Kingdom of God right now. When we have faith in Jesus we’re basically saying that the hope we’re waiting for is so real that we’ve, in a certain sense, already received it.
Consider an analogy of money (though I always hate to compare money to God). We rarely use paper money these days, relying instead on computer banking. All we know about our money is the numbers on our account listing. We’ve never seen it, but we know that the bank is trustworthy (okay, maybe the analogy breaks down a bit here), and so we can say with absolute confidence that we have that much money, despite not having seen it yet. And if we use some of that money to order something online, if we trust that the person we’ve bought it from isn’t a shady conman, then we can say with confidence that we own that product we’ve just purchased, even if it hasn’t arrived yet. We have faith in our banking systems, faith in Amazon.com, that what they have promised is true – and so, in a sense, we already own and enjoy those things that we have yet to fully receive. I for one have recently ordered Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics (it’s only $100 right now on CBD.com), but it won’t even be printed for a few months, and won’t ship until November. But man oh man, I’ve been enjoying that purchase ever since I clicked “Order Now”. I own Church Dogmatics, and I’m enjoying it, though I’ve never in my life laid eyes on it and won’t receive it for some time. But I have a guarantee sitting in my inbox that it will be shipped, and I have faith in Christianbook.com that they’re not some sort of shady scam artists.
So we don’t have faith in a thing or an event, but in the person who has promised and proclaimed it. We don’t have faith in the Kingdom, but in the King who brings the Kingdom. Jesus is our trustworthy High Priest, who has laid down his life as the guarantee of the coming promise. The difference between the promise of the Kingdom and the promise of receiving my books in the mail is that with the books, while I can enjoy the anticipation of receiving them, there is no real substance to my hope until I actually receive it. But when we put faith in Jesus that the Kingdom is coming, in that very act of putting faith in it we can actually enjoy the Kingdom in a very substantial way. It is not just our possession, but a possession that we can see and feel and touch. When we meet together as Christians, supporting one another and building each other up, we are actually living out the promises of Jesus in a tangible way. When we do that, we make the Kingdom manifest – we make Jesus’ promises take up space. We become the visible evidence of the coming hope, a reminder of the down payment (Jesus’ sacrifice), and a glimpse of the future, all because we act on the faith that we have in Jesus.
Faith is not blind belief in empty hopes. Faith is trusting in Christ’s guarantee and hoping for it to come. Living by faith brings a level of fulfillment to that guarantee, because it makes our hope manifest. So for those who have faith, the “not yet” becomes the “already”! Live your hope today, because it’s guaranteed by one who is faithful.