Tuesday, August 2, 2016

PENTECOST XII Proper 14 2016

Vermeer - Allegory of the Faith
Nowadays, faith is commonly contrasted with knowledge, and construed as belief in propositions or theories that can't be 'proved'. Both religious people and their critics use the concept in this way -- the first to reject scientistic demands of proof, and the second to underscore what they see as the groundless irrationality of religion.

This concept of faith, though, however widespread, is not the biblical concept, as this week's readings make clear. In the episode from Genesis, and  reflection on it in the Epistle to the Hebrews, we find an importantly different concept. The faith Abraham displayed was related to the future, which by the nature of the case, cannot be known, still less proved, since it hasn't happened yet! Yet, all of our lives must be built around this unknown future, not as abstract speculation on what might happen, but as the basis of our plans, careers, aspirations and adventures.

Faith properly so called, then, is in a different category to belief and knowledge. It is allied to hope and trust -- and its contrary is not knowledge but fear. Fearful mistrust would have prevented Abraham from setting out, and stopped him from hoping for descendants, despite his age and difficulties. It was faith in God, not theological knowledge or belief about God that guided and sustained him.

Abraham Journeying - Gustave Dore
The author of Hebrews uses this as a model for a new generation, to help them see that with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, a truly faith filled orientation to the future is enlarged. We can now set our hopes on a promised land far richer than a stretch of territory, and on belonging to a 'family' far greater than innumerable tribal descendants. This echoes the words of Jesus in the Gospel passage from Luke - 'Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom'. Faith in this promise, though, implies a different attitude to the present -- one that focusses on the truly important (because 'Where your treasure is, there will you heart be also') and shows a constant readiness to respond to the call of Jesus (because 'Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes').

1 comment:

  1. Even though the future seems far away, it is actually beginning right now. See the link below for more info.