September 5, 2021
Genesis 18:1-15, Hebrews 11:1-3, 23-27, 13:12-14, John 16:4-15
A view of the future
Faith, according to the book Hebrews, enables people to see the future. No, not in the sense of predicting the future or having a precognition or psychic ability to see events in the future. The book of Hebrews sees faith as a God-given ability to have glimpses, to be aware of God’s future, and to trust God’s future.
In Hebrews 11:1 the author gives a timeless definition of what faith is: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” He then continues in 11:3: “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.” This means that what we see in the world with our physical eyes, is only one view. There is much more behind what we see with our physical eyes, and faith enables us to see the presence and work of an Invisible God.
Chapter 11:5 states that “by faith Enoch was taken so that he did not experience death; and he was not found, because God had taken him.” The one reality that all of us at one point will see and experience, is death. The reality of death is inevitable. And yet, the author says, that Enoch, through faith did not see death!
Similarly, in verse 7 he says that “Noah, by faith, warned by God about events as yet unseen, respected the warning and built an ark to save his household…” So, through faith Noah sees what no-one had seen with physical eyes, that which was in the future, the flood, and he acted according to what he had seen.
Abraham looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder was God (10:10). His faith enabled him to see the city of God. In 11:13 we read: “All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from the distance they saw them and greeted them.”
Hebrews 11:23 gives another interesting example: “by faith Moses was hidden by his parents for three months after his birth, because they saw that the child was beautiful…” One commentator explains that what this actually means is that they saw that the future of their child was beautiful. His parents were convinced that God would preserve the baby and that he would be used by divine providence.
Moses, when he grew up he left Egypt “ … for he persevered as though he saw Him who is invisible”.
The author, by using these examples, is in essence saying that faith is to have excellent vision. People of faith are able to see what is invisible to others.
Now we understand Chapter 2:8-9 better: “… we do not yet see everything … but we do see Jesus….”
And this is how it is: we do not yet see everything and often what we see is depressing – we do not see God’s Kingdom for there is still too much suffering, injustice and death in this world. And these we do see. We do not see God, for our eyes see so much despair, pain, grief, and hopelessness. We see disharmony, people saying nasty things on social media, we see intolerance, violence, and threats of violence. We see natural disasters, and we see how people are wrestling with the harshness of life and how to cope with an unpredictable world.
But then, the author is suggesting, look deeper, focus. And then, as we look closer, as we squint our eyes, then… wait a minute … wait I am seeing, wait, things are coming in focus, and, and….then I see the invisible things, I see God, I see Jesus! My spiritual eyes see what my physical eyes don’t see.
And this is why the author is constantly urging the congregation to keep their eyes open and on Jesus. Faith then is to look deeper, to look further, to squint our eyes, to see far, to look into the future and see God’s future, to see God, to see Jesus, to see the city of God. This is what faith is! It is to stand on a metaphorical hill and to have a clear vision. And once we see the invisible things, our view is not limited by all the obstructions and distractions of this world.
The Reformer Martin Luther understood this image. In his writings he often writes: “Faith is to see that what you don’t see, and not to see what you do see.” You see God and God’s work, and you are not blinded by the brokenness of what you see. In his commentary on Hebrews 11:27 Luther says that faith is to look deeper than what you see with your physical eyes, and to see things that you don’t see with your physical eyes. At the same, he says, it is to look deeper and see God’s work and to see God and not to be distracted by what our physical eyes see. He concludes by saying: “Faith is permitting ourselves to be seized by the things we do not see.”
He makes the distinction between eyes of faith and eyes of cold, clinical reasoning. They are both able to see, but they don’t see the same things. When we look at the world with our cold clinical reasoning eyes, we see what everyone sees, we judge the world and people the way everyone does. We see what there is to see and that is it. There is nothing more to what we see. The cold, harsh reality.
Faith, on the other hand is the ability to see the world the way God sees the world. To see people the way God sees them. In this sense faith is to look through God’s eyes!
I wish we had more time to let that sink in: faith is to look through God’s eyes.
What do we see when we look at ourselves with our own, cold, clinical, rational eyes? We see flawed human beings, tainted with guilt because of bad decisions in the past, we see our brokenness, our sins, our inability to live up to our own ideals, we see our own failures. This is what we see when we look at ourselves with our rational eyes. No wonder despair, we are deeply disappointed in ourselves and we are unhappy beings. This is when we ask ourselves: How can God love me? How can I be a Christian? Can I ever find peace?
However, when we look at ourselves through God’s eyes, what will we see? We will see a person who is deeply loved, completely forgiven, and unconditionally accepted. If we look at ourselves through God’s eyes, we see someone who is so precious that God is willing to walk right next to me. God sees someone who is holy, righteous, and precious!
What do we see when look at our values with our own, cold, clinical, rational eyes? We see the seemingly success of others and we want to imitate these values: We see that they take short-cuts to happiness by being dishonest, harsh, and selfish. But when we look with eyes of faith we see that there is a different way. When my reason and the world say, be realistic, think only about yourself, and use your elbows to move up the ranks, faith sees an alternative way. If my eyes of reason tell me that the law that works is an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, then my eyes of faith show me a different path. And faith enables me to see that God’s way has a future, God’s way is right, good, and lasting. Therefore, even if my heart tells me to follow my own desires, faith convinces me there is another, better vision!
What do I see if I look at other human beings with my rational, cold, clinical eyes? I see an enemy or a competitor who competes for what I want. I see someone who wants to take what belongs to me. I see someone who is a threat to me, to my culture, to my dreams, and to my ideals. But when I look at others through the eyes of faith, I see persons like me, I see groups of people who could be part of my community, I see more and deeper: I see someone who can be a friend, someone who is good, who is created in the image of God, who is loved by God. I see potential for deeper relationship that will enrich God’s creation. And when you look at others in this way, you see the image of God and then you want to treat the other with respect and dignity. We see people and we treat them in the way God treats us: with compassion and love.
The Book of Hebrews is thus saying that faith is simply the ability to see better, further, to see the future, to see the invisible, to Jesus and to see God. The ability to see the new heaven and new earth, to see opportunities to let God’s will be done, and to see God’s love reigns supreme. Faith is to see what matters to God and to see what God wants for God’s world!
Faith gives us eyes to see and distinguish between what is good and what is evil. We see what are short- term benefits for a few but what causes long-term harm for the community. It reveals the temptations of my own selfish desires and it highlights what is God’s plan for a good, harmonious community.
Viewed this way, faith is not just a pie in the sky when I die. Faith is astonishingly practical. Faith viewed this way, makes for a confident adventure every day. Every day provides more opportunities to see, to search, and to discover new evidence of God’s work. We could even say that every day, every situation provides opportunities for us to see God, Jesus, the kingdom of God and the new heaven and earth. Every situation is an opportunity to look a bit deeper and see the presence of God.
According to Romans 2, faith is to have the spiritual sensitivity to determine what really matters in God’s kingdom. In Ephesians 1:18 the Apostle Paul says: “..so that with eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you…”
Yes, faith enables us to see what is important. But the problem is that we are forgetful. And therefore, we need to remind ourselves daily about what is really important. We need to asks ourselves questions like: “Do I see more than what my physical eyes see? Do I see the Invisible beyond the visible? Do I see God with spiritual eyes? Do I look at myself, others, and the world through God’s eyes?”
Faith helps us to prioritize. We see God’s kingdom and we live as citizens of God’s kingdom. And because we have eyes that see more than the obvious, our views will impact the way we live, the way we interact with others, the way we are engaged in business, and politics, and every other domain of our lives. Amen.