Faith in the Journey: Looking back, looking ahead

As I get older, I get simpler.

I find I have reduced the number of things that make my blood boil and my mouth blurt.

Whilst listening to a fairly acrimonious “conversation” about “Evolution or Creation,” (for example), I realized that I was far more interested in the why of existence than the how it had all come about.

And I certainly wasn’t interested in the loveless backbiting that had replaced seeking for truth together.

The Bible (to which I afterwards turned with relief), puts it so quietly, so beautifully: “In the beginning, God.” The writer of Genesis 1 is explaining the world. This is all you need to know. This is why things came into being. Because “In the beginning, God.”

And the writer to the Hebrews underlines that the Christian does not use the Bible as a textbook of cosmic mechanics,  but as a spiritual explanation: “By faith we understand that the world was created by the word of God” (Hebrews 11:3.)

Faith is the perception of God as originator. But he is not only origin but destination. Time begins and concludes in him. History is “his story”, as they say.

Faith looks back (to that point of origin) but it also looks forward to the complete denouement, when God, rather like Hercules Poirot calling everyone into the library. goes through all the clues and explains how they all fit together…

Faith is the looking back and the looking ahead… it’s that sense of seeing God’s hand on the whole. This is something that really impacted me when I was writing “Friend of God” and reflecting on the life of Abraham. He’s such a key figure for understanding life as journey.

His life illustrates the important difference between faith and hope.

Faith can look back (to creation) as well as forward. So faith is the larger idea. It includes hope, but is more than hope. You might put it this way: faith is our confidence in the Word of God, and whenever that Word has reference to the future, you can call our confidence in it hope. Hope is faith in the future tense.

Why is this important to see?

First, it helps us grasp the true nature of biblical hope. Most of us know that biblical faith is a strong confidence. Doubt is the enemy of biblical faith. But if hope is faith in the future tense, then we can see more clearly that hope, too, is a strong confidence and not just wishful thinking.

But also, it shows how indispensable hope is. We all know that we are saved by grace through faith. Faith is necessary for our salvation. But we don’t as often speak of hope in those terms. But we should. Hope is an essential part of faith. Take away hope and the definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1 is disabled. We are not merely saved by grace through faith. We are saved by grace through hope.

Paul shares this same view of hope in Romans 4:18. He describes Abraham as the great example of faith, and in particular, of justification by faith. In Romans 4: 22,  he says, “This is why Abraham’s faith was ‘reckoned to him as righteousness.‘” And the faith Paul is speaking about is the faith that God would fulfil his promise by giving him a son, Isaac.

So the faith which justified Abraham was faith in the future work of God. Verse 21 makes this crystal clear: he was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” In other words he had what Hebrews 6:11 called the “full assurance of hope.”

Verse 18 describes how faith and hope worked together: “In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations.

Against hope” means that from the ordinary human standpoint there was no hope at all! Abraham was too old to have a child, and his wife was barren. But biblical hope is never based on what is possible with man. Biblical hope looks away from man to the promise of God. And when it does, it becomes the “full assurance of hope“—the expectation of great things from God.

It is not easy to describe exactly what Paul means in verse 18 when he says, “In hope Abraham believed . . . that he should become the father of many nations.” But from the whole context I think it is fair to say that Abraham’s faith was his strong confidence in the reliability of God’s Word, and Abraham’s hope was his strong confidence in the fulfillment of God’s promise.

In other words, whenever faith in God looks to the future, it can be called hope. And whenever hope rests on the Word of God, it can be called faith.

Not the ordinary concept we use in everyday speech. It does not imply uncertainty or lack of assurance. Instead biblical hope is a confident expectation and desire for something good in the future.

It’s the inner certainty that it is going to be ok.

Because God is in it.

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This entry was posted in Christianity, Contemporism, Faith, God, Is it me?, Jesus, life, Listening, The church today and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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