One of the Greatest Chapters on Faith
The book of Hebrews is unique and special in many respects. It also contains one of the greatest chapters on the central Christian theme of faith—chapter 11.
The chapter begins with a succinct, but unsurpassable, definition of faith, and then goes on to list a number of Bible heroes and heroines of faith. While the chapter is devoted exclusively to the single theme of faith, it also underscores the diversity of faith stories and experiences.
Diverse Faith Journeys
The faith journeys of the people mentioned were very different, and their faith produced, as it were, very different results. When we look at the way the different Bible characters are juxtaposed, the diversity that emerges is fascinating.
Abel who believes, or has faith in God becomes the first person to die; but then Enoch also believes, and becomes the first person to not die. Noah receives a message from God regarding the de-population of the world, and the world is condemned and destroyed, but Abraham receives a message from God regarding the repopulation of the world, and the world is blessed and redeemed.
Abraham is followed by Isaac. (The saying “The first half of our life is spoilt by our parents; the second half by our children” is particularly true for Isaac!)
In Genesis 27, Isaac, with all his sincere faith, leans on his two sons, Jacob and Esau carefully feels and smells them, and then blesses them—and gets it wrong. Esau’s blessing goes to Jacob. His son Jacob, on the other hand, in his old age, simply leans on his staff, and by faith blesses his twelve sons from a distance—and gets it spot on.
God prepares Joseph in the desert but uses him in the palace; only to be followed by Moses whom God prepares in the palace but uses in the desert.
The two women who get a mention in this famed passage are Sarah and Rahab. Sarah, Abraham’s wife, was a barren woman who was desperately trying to conceive. Rahab, on the other hand, was a prostitute who could ill afford to get pregnant; and so, presumably, was desperate to not conceive.
Unique Christian Experiences
The point that this list of characters seems to be making is this: The personal faith journeys and stories of these people were different. So are ours—and so should they be.
We are often tempted to compare our Christian lives and the experiences of our personal walk of faith with that of others. We often feel frustrated that our faith in God is seemingly not as effective as that of others. Other times we are tempted to be somewhat prideful that our lives and ministries appear to be more productive and fruitful compared to others.
Realize God’s Leading and Call
Hebrews 11 emphasizes that such comparisons are inappropriate and misleading. God calls, leads, and uses us in different ways, and we had better realize that.
When we read this passage—a “hall of fame” list of spiritual “celebrities”—we must take care not to romanticize any Bible heroes and their stories too much—lest we end up with false and faulty notions about them—just like the way we do today when we collude with the media and their celebrities in creating and projecting false images and ideals.
When we look into the actual story of Sarah in Genesis 16, we initially find a Sarah with an overzealous and misguided faith (or perhaps even a lack of faith). She is trying to give God a hand in fulfilling His promise made to Abraham. She gets her husband Abraham to have a child with their servant Hagar. And what happens? She messes things up terribly.
Then in Genesis 18, when God reminds her of His promise, she blurts out laughing because she was almost ninety years old. What we find is that the “real” Sarah is not exactly the kind of person we would normally associate with great faith. But here, she and her faith get a mention.
HIStory – God’s Story
The passage thus seems to make another crucial point: The lives of these heroes do not necessarily bear witness to their “greatness” or the “greatness” of their faith. Some of them were undoubtedly towering personalities with truly great faith who played key roles in the Bible.
For the most part, however, they were really ordinary people who, in their feeble and erring ways, by simply believing in the promises of the true and living God, and by aligning their lives accordingly, as best as they knew how were graciously caught up in a story much bigger than they ever dreamed or imagined: The story of God’s redemption of the world. History, as they say, is HIStory—God’s story.
Fix your Eyes on Jesus
That is why in Hebrews 12 (which is, in a sense, the application of Hebrews 11), the writer begins by telling us to fix our eyes, not on these great men and women of faith, but on God himself.
And how do we do that? We do that by fixing our eyes on the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of God’s nature—even Jesus Himself, the author and perfecter of our faith. He is the only one who perfectly demonstrates what true faith is, and His is the only faith according to which we may ultimately pattern our own.
As we fix our eyes on Him and live our lives of faith in our ever so feeble and erring ways, we, with our own little faith stories, also get graciously caught up in God’s larger story.
Photo by O’car Johann Campos on Unsplash