Editor’s note: “Matters of faith” is a column that provides local religious leaders a place to write about how their respective faiths provide hope, courage and strength in these modern times.
In considering my article for the Matters of Faith column this week, I was reminded of what an interesting concept faith is, and how the word is used and misused.
It is little wonder the word can cause misunderstandings that extend to people of faith, who they are and how they are perceived. I realize the scope of that subject could form the basis of a book rather than a single article, so I need to focus my thoughts.
The opening verse of the 11th chapter of the book of Hebrews offers what appears to be a fairly straightforward definition of faith: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Heb 11:1 NIV) When reading through the verses that follow as examples of faith, we find some names of people who may sound familiar. There are names like Noah, Abraham, Jacob and Moses, in addition to those not quite as memorable such as Rahab, Barak and Jephthah.
Additional study into these “heroes of the faith” reveals a group of flawed individuals who were far from perfect. Only one has a preface to her name that casts a shadow on her character. By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient. (Heb 11:31 NIV) In fairness, we could certainly add adjectives like liar, adulterer, murderer, thief and other unflattering words to describe some of the other “heroes.” The point is not whom was worse, but rather to demonstrate people of faith have never been perfect.
The Bible, to its credit, has never attempted to create the veneer of perfection for individuals, which unfortunately, has become a sort of standard in some religious cultures. This misunderstanding is most likely the basis for the criticism of hypocrisy; such as “I don’t go to church because the church is full of hypocrites.”
The beliefs held by people of faith have been misunderstood, and as a result, often have led to undeserved criticism. One example is faith is a “crutch” used by those who cannot face the “real world.” The lives of people of faith are not perfect and neither are their circumstances. The ability of people of faith to function — even thrive — in negative circumstances is not a rose colored, Pollyanna view of the world. It is rather an understanding of some basic biblical promises.
There are so many that even quoting them would exceed the parameters of this column. But as one example, when Jesus was concluding His remarks to His apostles following what we call the Last Supper and just before His closing prayer, said. “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV)
Jesus says the 12 men who had been His constant companions for the last three years were not going to be seeing Him for awhile and they would miss His presence, but He had given them information that would bring them peace. His followers would need that peace because there was not a possibility of trouble but rather trouble would be a fact of their lives.
But even in this trouble, Jesus reminds them the ultimate victory has been won, He has overcome. People of faith are not perfect but they have been forgiven, and even in difficult times, have a promise of peace.
Bill Upton is chaplain of the Tooele City Police Department.