Faith is being sure of what we hope for

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:4)
God is not the vast swell of the ocean. It is not the overpowering sun. He is not the infinite dimensions and depth of space. He is not the towering mountains. All of these things fill us limited humans with awe. Things that are so much larger than we are. Things which we know if we disrespect them can result in our undoing. None of this describes God.

We use the word "God", but even this is just a construct. Man has a history of clumsy attempts to quantify the unquantifiable. To label things. To put into words something which goes beyond definition. If he can box it and bundle it, stick it in a jar and shelve it, he somehow feels more at ease. That he has in some small way been able to tame something beyond his ken.

But God does not need taming. It is man who needs reassurance.

In his enterprising attempt to define faith, the writer of Hebrews alighted upon a phrase which summed up this reassurance: "Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." It is a certainty which goes beyond belief. It does not need to be bolstered by evidence, and shored up by proof. Faith transcends these things.

And, what is it that we hope for?

In keeping with the scriptural adage that "in the abundance of words there does not fail to be transgression," the writer to the Hebrews all but undoes what he so succinctly stated in one short sentence, yet we can still draw out some insight from his list of examples that follows. In verse 4, Abel "was commended as a righteous man"; in verse 5, Enoch "was commended as one who pleased God"; in verse 7, Noah "became the heir of the righteousness that comes by faith." Just a few examples that demonstrate what it is that all of us hope for: The confirmation of our inherent righteousness.

A still small voice
When Elijah was afraid and ran for his life from Jezebel, he spent the night in a cave on Mount Horeb. 1 Kings 19:10-18 describes the encounter he has with God:
And there he came to a cave, and lodged there; and behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said to him, "What are you doing here, Eli'jah?"

He said, "I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the people of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thy altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away."

And he said, "Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD." And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.

And when Eli'jah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him, and said, "What are you doing here, Eli'jah?"
The Lord was not in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire. He does not threaten with death any who do not abide by his requirements. There is not rule by fear. Instead, the Lord was found in a "still small voice". It is found in gentleness and reassurance. In the legend of Elijah, such reassurance meant, "You are not alone, there will be others." For us, this translates into the things we hope for.

What we hope for is not the first thing we hope for. "Peace on earth and good will to all men," is a quite noble hope, but it is not what we really hope for. The first thing we hope for is only a signpost pointing the way to our true hope, the hope that can be assured by faith. We discover this hope when we embark on the journey to self-understanding. We don't grasp this hope immediately because on face value it seems too selfish. But, in reality, it is the most unselfish act of self-discovery we can attain. When this hope is assured by faith we become free to give out to others in ways we could never match before.

What the "still small voice" heard by Elijah amounts to for us, is this: You are fine. Everything is going to be alright. Jesus put it even more plainly: "Your sins have been forgiven."

There is no threat of destruction if we are disobedient. We are not endangered if we do not obey the required instructions. Faith in God is not like that. It is more like the experience of a child wrapped in its mother's arms. A soothing voice, a gentle whisper: "Don't worry. Everything is going to be alright. You are loved."

That is our hope, that we are going to be alright; that we are well with the world; that our sins have been forgiven. It is a reassurance that we can find within ourselves. It is a conviction that faith will give us. Freedom from debilitating shame, guilt and fear - the anxious dread of badness and recrimination.

We can achieve this state by getting to know ourselves. Taking the time to get to the root of our frightening emotions. Turning the light on and shining it into the dark places of our heart. We can have it confirmed by the "still small voice" found in the silence of our innermost conviction. By sitting in quiet solitude we can allow ourselves to be firmly convinced of our dignified righteousness. Such is the profound experience of faith. It is being sure of what we truly hope for, and certain of what we do not see.
"Don't worry about a thing,
Cos every little thing's gonna be alright."

Bob Marley, Three Little Birds (1977)