Faith Series #1: Hebrews 11:1-3 (Creation, Meetings and Corned Beef)

About a month ago, a friend and I had a bible study on Hebrews 11. I have heard this chapter tackled quite a few times in the past in expositions and sermons, yet God once again made His words alive and allowed us to draw the richness out of it. It took us almost 4 hours to finish the chapter. I then decided to write a series about it, albeit being a month late in publishing.

Let’s start with the first 3 verses

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

-(Hebrews 11:1-3, biblegateway.com)

The book of Hebrews
The book was written primarily to convince and/or remind Jewish background believers about the centrality, supremacy, and sufficiency of Christ. While the attribution of authorship is a contested and inconclusive matter, I personally think that he may not have deemed it relevant to identify himself, thus allowing the readers to focus on the content instead.

Chapter 11

Prior to this chapter, most of the talk had been about the supremacy of Christ, his special priesthood, and his superior, once-for-all sacrifice. By the last part of chapter 10, the author suddenly talks about perseverance. Presumably, the strength of the believers’ faith were being tested through persecutions and trials. It would not be far-fetched to imagine that this letter was created in part because some converts were wavering in their belief or have either reverted to their old ways or converted to another belief system. Faith in this chapter, was therefore in the immediate context of persevering in their beliefs (in Christ) amidst seemingly having all odds against them – to believe in the promises of God in Christ regarding the afterlife and eternity while their lives and material posessions were being taken away.

The author starts out by giving a somewhat dictionary definition of faith – that which involves hoping, and that which involves the invisible (or imperceptible).

In principle, we exercise faith in our everyday lives. For example, when you ask someone to meet with you at 10am, you will have a certain degree of assurance that you will not be alone in your meeting place come 10am. You have no evidence that the other person will come, except for his or her word, but you would nonetheless expect that he or she will arrive.

Similarly, when we open a can of for example, corned beef, we have faith that eating its contents  will not make us ill, incapacitated, or take us to the morgue. We have no idea if the expiry date is correct, or even if the product has passed the required battery of tests to assure safety, all we see is the brand/manufacturer, that will make us think that “surely this company will not release a product that they know can harm their customers”.

Note however, that the results – whether the other person will show up or whether the corned beef will make you ill, is not dependent upon you or how sincerely you believe, but rather on the trustworthiness of both the person and the manufacturer.Turning these two examples into a divine analogy, all we have is God’s word, and the idea that as our maker/manufacturer, He will surely not want our harm.

Combining these two sub definitions, we can conclude that faith in this context is first of all positive – having an aspect of hope; and secondly, transcendent – having an aspect of supernaturality. It is being certain of something that cannot be conclusively proven, and is directly against man’s conquest for predictability and control over everything.

Segue: Two days ago, I attended a symposium where the speaker – who was both a physicist and theologian, explained that things of the divine cannot be perceived using a limited world view bound by the laws of physics, or theories of materialism, which were used by scientists and Marxists, respectively. For me, it’s like trying to measure light using a weighing scale: you cannot conclude that there is no light just because shining a flood lamp onto an analytical balance reads 0.0000g.

Moving on, the author then proceeds to explain that those who were commended – those who were extraordinarily above the rest, had this quality called faith. He then continues to use as an example something that all the readers presumably ascribe to: creationism.

By believing that God created the world from virtually nothing (or that which is invisible), a person exercises his or her faith. Creation is not something we have observed with our eyes. Neither is it something that we could either readily prove or disprove. We simply accepted it as fact, simply because God said so, and we believe God to be more trustworthy than a person setting a meeting or a corned beef manufacturer.

Sidetracking back to Mr. Physicist-theologian’s talk, he also mentioned that in his opinion, scientifically, the big bang theory will remain a theory because it is a singular event that happened in the past. It is not something that man can hope to experimentally recreate, even on a smaller scale. Furthermore, man has also no way of proving that the “laws” of physics to which we adhere to now, applied to the universe billions of years ago.

In summary:

  1. We practice faith in everyday life
  2. Biblical faith involves positive anticipation
  3. Faith involves certainty in the absence of perceptible proof (or having certain assumptions)
  4. The amount of one’s faith will not change the level of reliability or the lack thereof of the object of faith
  5. Man’s lack of faith is partly because of his desire for control

For reflection:

  1. How do you exercise faith in your everyday life?
  2. What things about God do you find hard to believe in, and why?
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