In chapter 10, the readers are reminded to not look back to the old way of doing things but to look forward to what Christ has done. He did this once for all. We were baptized once for our sins. The Hebrew writer keeps giving the reminder to stay the course, don’t look back!
Hebrews 11 then begins with how we are able to look forward and not look back: Faith. Faith is what gives us the ability to move forward without looking back. I really like this translation of 11:1-2. “What then is faith? It is what gives assurance to our hopes, it is what gives us conviction about things we can’t see.”
Faith, for the Hebrew writer, is always in conjunction with hope. Faith is looking at God and trusting him for everything. Hope is looking at the future and trusting God for it. I’ve joked for a few years now that I am not an optimist but a realist. The more I joke about it the more I feel like it is true. I have little hope or faith in my fellow man, which means I am not much of an optimist. Before I get written off as a cynic, I look at history and see all of the advancements we have made and basically see that we have merely created whole new ways of killing each other and ways of blaming our problems on our parents. I’m playing this up a bit but what I want to communicate is that putting faith and hope in our fellow man will fail us. Putting faith and hope in our government will disappoint us. Putting faith and hope in the old way of doing things will always come up short.
Faith is defined in relation to hope because faith gives your hope assurance. It is one thing to hope for a better world, for new life beyond the grace, but unless you believe in the God who raised Jesus from the dead and conquered death then your hope is merely degenerated into optimism…which is why I’m a realist who believes in God.
It is by faith that we understand all things. It is by faith that we understand that God created out of nothing. One of my favorite questions I get asked is, “Where did God come from? What created God?” Those questions are based on an understanding we have within creation that everything has a beginning. The reason we think that way is because we have a beginning. Should this notion of “beginning” be applied to the being that created the world that holds that concept? We take it on faith.
The Hebrew writer establishes that faith goes back to creation and claims all the characters in Israel’s story going forward. I got to do some hiking in the highlands of Scotland back in ’04. The highlands are incredibly rugged mountains that are almost vertical in most places. When you look down below you see these amazing lochs (lakes) gathered at the base of the mountains winding around. The higher we got up the mountain the more I struggled with my steps. We weren’t doing switchbacks like most mountains. We were going straight up. At one point I realized that we were hiking on a stone path. This blew my mind but then gave me great hope. The realization that someone had not only been there before but had carried rock with them to pave the way for me gave me great hope. I can’t help think about that hiking trip when I read about these stones of faith that have been put in place.
On other backpacking trips I’ve been on there is a common sight that most people don’t notice unless they are looking for it. It is called a cairn. A cairn is a stack of rocks that someone has stacked up to mark the trail. These come in handy when you are in the basin of some mountains and you’ve gotten off the trial. You look out and look for a small stack of rocks marking the way. I’ve been on a number of trails where it is hard to see where the path is going and I look for the cairn. I’m thankful for the people who have gone before me to show me the way.