The New Testament writer of the book of Hebrews appears to say the idea of faith is one of both certainty and hope. No doubt some might see that as something of a contradiction.
There remains some debate about the name of the author of Hebrews, but he wrote this: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see,” Hebrews 11:1 NIV. I would submit to you that hope is by nature a future event.
If I am eating a brownie, I don’t need to have hope or faith for that brownie. I may hope for a second brownie, but there may be a number of other factors, including supply that may not include certainty. The writer used the faith definition as a springboard to list a number of individuals who demonstrated great faith — both well known like Adam and less known like Jephthah. Even my spell check doesn’t recognize his name.
I have heard chapter 11 described as the hero’s hall of fame. That is a wonderful word picture but it also provides the basis for chapter 12, which begins, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,” Hebrews 12:1 NIV.
The “therefore” of the verse takes us back to chapter 11, which recognizes all of the faithful people who have finished their races and leaves the reader with some advice about how to best run their own. Perhaps as “people of faith,” we can consider and even follow some of those directions.
In my mind at least throwing off the hindrances may refer to past decisions that we often refer to as baggage. I remember years ago as a novice runner starting a five-mile race on a very cold morning. I decided to leave on my sweat suit. Early in the race a fast moving storm turned my warm fleece into a soggy heavy hindrance; getting rid of it would have made the race much more successful on many levels.
Most of the baggage we carry has long since lost value in our race and should be discarded, which begins with forgiveness, but we will leave that for another discussion. The writer moves on to “entangling sin” those current bad choices and decisions that we continue to repeat and then wonder why our lives become so confused, our race so hard. The author then describes an attitude that encourages us forward to run with hopeful endurance or patience in the race.
Note as a reminder to people of faith: it is not a random race or a race without purpose; it is one that has been “marked out for us.” It does not suggest it is going to be an easy race or that it is even a race to be won in human terms. That may take us back to the definition of faith being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we cannot see.
Paul gave this reminder to the church at Philippi: “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus,” Philippians 1:6 NIV.
Bill Upton is chaplain of the Tooele City Police Department.