Thoughts on Christian Faith (8/11)

August 13, 2013

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. – Heb. 11:1

Faith is a word that gets tossed around in a lot of different contexts. Unfortunately, the word has many shades of meaning. And since the concept of faith is central to our identity as Christians, we need to be especially careful that we actually know what it is that we are talking about. Some of the ways we use the term faith are extremely helpful, but most of them are really distractions. This morning, with some help from the Epistle to the Hebrews, I’d like to spend a few minutes reflecting on what faith is and is not, and also to look at how faith fits into our broader understanding of what it means to be a Christian.

First, a few things that faith is not. Faith is not the absence of doubt. If we have doubt about something, then we must not have faith. But the truth is that faith and doubt can live happily side by side. In fact, doubt often comes to us in proportion to our faith. The more faith we have, the more trust we have that God is acting, the more doubt seeks to undermine us. Doubt is simply the natural test of faith.

Faith is also not another word for religion. Especially in the media, faith is often used as a polite word for religion. We talk about Buddhist faith, Muslim faith, Christian faith, and so on. But faith is not a set of religious precepts or practices. Religions are complex things with texts, rituals, traditions, interpretations, doctrines, and so on. Yes, faith – trust in things we cannot perceive – is a part of most religions, but it’s not fair to the richness of all these religions to reduce them to faith alone.

So what is faith? In the world that the author of Hebrews lived in, faith had a subtle meaning. Faith was the sense of trust that two parties have when there is an important relationship between them. In our speech, this is the sense of keeping faith with someone. Two friends have faith in each other. Parents and children have faith in each other. This is the root of the idea that married couples are faithful to each other. In relationships like these, each party has a role to play, and faith is the trust that each party will play their role. That’s the backdrop to the Christian idea of faith.

The relationship that author of Hebrews is describing is our relationship with God, and in this relationship, keeping faith means holding onto the assurance of things hoped for and having the conviction of things not seen. We have a role to play and God has a role to play. Faith is the trust that we intend to play our role, and God will play his role.

The author of Hebrews holds up Abraham as an example to us. Abraham did not live to see the promise that God made fulfilled, but he lived to see the birth of his son Isaac through whom the promise was kept. God has made a promise to us, a promise to love us and to bring us into union with him. This promise is fulfilled through Jesus, and it is already being fulfilled, but we are still waiting for it to be completed. We trust that God will make all things right, but we don’t know when. Faith is the thing that keeps us going in the meantime.
One of the amazing claims of Christianity is that God has faith in us just as we have faith in him. God trusts us that we will play our part; we will love him, love each other, and that we will work to live as citizens of the kingdom of God. Looking at our track record, this is an assurance of something which is unseen. But despite all our failings, God always trusts that we will turn in love to him, and turn to each other in forgiveness and humility.
Our faith as Christians is not some sort of supernatural confidence, and it’s not a creed or a list of beliefs. Our faith is a commitment to walk together as Christians with the hope and the expectation that God will bring all things to completion. It is the assurance that we will try our best to reach out to God and to each other in love. And our faith is trust that in God all of our deepest hopes will be fulfilled.

Homily for Proper 14, Year C
Michael Tuck+

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