It was not through the law that the promise was made to Abraham and his descendants that he would inherit the world, but through the righteousness that comes from faith. – Romans 4:13
How can we have faith? This is a question that is asked and discussed in the small groups during the Alpha course we run at our parish. “Faith isn’t a blind leap. It’s a reasonable step based on good evidence. In some ways faith is more like a journey,” they say as the Alpha video begins.
But what is the evidence for putting our faith in God? The answer is simple, but not necessarily easy: by having a personal relationship with God. Jesus is our perfect example of how to live a life of faith. Through his example we see the person of God himself become fully human to take on the burdens of all our sins and suffer to the point of death, not to save himself, but to save us. He gives everything of himself for us. And out of his great love for us, God gives us a share in this life of suffering, too. Not because he doesn’t love us, but because none of us could ever repay our debts from the wrongs we have committed against himself and others. And because of Jesus we don’t need to. We need only carry the share of the suffering that is given us. And from a human perspective this can sometimes seem grossly unfair. We see that some very good and wholesome people experience a great deal of sufferings, while others skate through life seemingly unscathed. The question is, how do we handle the unfairness we see? Do we turn away from God? Or do we follow Jesus’ example and lean more deeply into him?
The Scriptures tell us that “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) So which is it? you may be wondering. Is faith, as Alpha says, “a reasonable step based on good evidence,” or is it as the Scriptures say “evidence of things not seen?” When we look to the life of Jesus, we can see it’s clearly both. Jesus did not go through life minding his own business until one day God put it on his heart to die for all our sins and Jesus did it and so now he’s a hero. No! Jesus was born into and shared a deep and personal relationship with God the Father from the very beginning. And today’s second reading from Romans reminds us that years before Jesus became incarnate, Abraham, too, had a deep personal relationship with God the Father. Without it, the whole story of the sacrifice of his son Isaac (also a young man of great faith and a prefiguring of Jesus) Abraham would appear insane! But today we are told it was Abraham’s faith that God rewarded, not his adherence to any laws. (In fact, it wasn’t until centuries later that the Law was given to Israel, and that was only because of their many transgressions.)
Today’s readings are in celebration of the Solemnity of St. Joseph. Joseph, another man of great faith, chose not to follow his legal right for a divorce from Mary when he discovered she was pregnant (though they had not been together), but rather to follow the commands of the angel of God who appeared to him in a dream and bring her into his home and marry her, though he stood to face much shame and rejection for doing so.
Abraham had great faith. St. Joseph had great faith. Jesus is our perfect example of faith. All had a personal relationship with God. By their examples, we can begin to connect the dots for how faith may look in our own lives:
- Open our hearts to God. Alpha suggests we say a simple prayer like, “God, if you are real, show me in a way that I will understand and can come to believe in you.” You could say this step is a “realization of what is hoped for” (Hebrews 11:1)
- Watch/listen for God to respond to us. This is the step I think that confuses many of us, as we tend to have at least two unrealistic expectations of God: 1) that God will answer us immediately, and 2) that it will be something very supernatural and obvious. While these two things are certainly well within God’s capabilities to do, people who walk with God will generally attest to something quite different. They see God working through the people around them, and through things that are already meaningful to them. We, on the other hand, often mislabel these things as “coincidences.” However, with open hearts, through the eyes of faith, we can begin to see these “coincidences” as our own personal “evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)
- Repeat step 1. Once we’ve received this “evidence” in our hearts, though we can’t see it, we act on it if it calls us to act. Sometimes, the “evidence” is simply an affirmation of God’s love for us, or a reassurance of his presence with us that calls for no action on our part at all. And in many cases, we can rest assured that any calls to action will be reasonable, or at least consistent with the nature of God. They are seldom “blind leaps”, but rather “reasonable steps based on good (but unseen) evidence.”
To us, Abraham’s sacrificial offering of his son, Joseph’s willingness to marry a woman pregnant with a child who was not his own, and Jesus’ willingness to take on death on the Cross can all seem like extreme “blind leaps” from where we sit. But for them? For them, these acts were their next most reasonable steps based on the lifetime of evidence they had from their personal relationship with the God of the Universe.
The same God who wants to have a personal relationship with you and with me.
From this perspective, we can begin to appreciate that perhaps the one who takes the biggest “leap of faith” in all of this is not us, but God.
Reflect: What “evidence” do you have to point to in your life that God exists? If you don’t have any “evidence” of God, have you considered asking for him to provide you with some? Does asking for God to provide this “evidence” seem like a reasonable step to you? Imagine if after you die, you were to appear before God and accuse him of never revealing himself to you and his reply were simply, “Well, my child, why did you never ask?”
Pray: Heavenly Father, thank you for loving us even when we don’t love you in return. Thank you for loving us even when we don’t know you, or forget to include you in our lives. Help us to know you more fully, walk with you more closely, and experience your love and mercy more deeply as we begin, continue or renew our journey of faith with you. Amen.