Western Christianity presents God as a super-hero: someone who comes to the rescue when all hope is gone, who saves us from all trouble, the consequences of sin, etc.. We often use the nation Israel as an example, describing them as a people called and chosen by God, highly favored, granted miraculous victories time and time again. We celebrate the blessings of Abraham, the kingship of David, the riches of Solomon. But we often forget the rest of their story. Or if we do, we don’t apply it to our current situations. We get offended in our crisis and wonder if we’re wrong to cling to “false hope.”
Israel faced slavery, famine, plagues, war, and exile over and over again. They knew the blessings of God but they also knew the defeats and heartaches of life. Yes, God was their deliverer and their hope, and he performed many miracles on their behalf. But remember, many turned away from him when things were hard (after 400 years of slavery, many were understandably quite weary in their faith).
Perhaps this is why the writer of Hebrews devoted so much time to the remembrance of those who endured through unspeakable hardship and held on to their faith.
“. . . Some were tortured . . . others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”(Heb 11:32-38)
“All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” (Heb 11:13)
Suffering still exists in the world. Even “civilized” Americans face illnesses, family or financial distresses. Many in America know what it’s like to lose a son, daughter, mother or father in a war. Western Christianity must not forget this. We must not present God as a way to escape the realities of life. We must present him as he is.
The writer, probably experiencing some conflict himself, reminds his struggling friends that “God rewards those who seek him.” (When and how, he didn’t say.) We cannot understand his ways without faith—”By faith we understand . . . ” Heb 11:3. His ways are not our ways.
God helps us endure life and wait for something better (Heb 11:13-16). He performs miracles in our lives and answers prayers. But like Israel sometimes we have to wait it out. Whether it be a week, a month, or four hundred years, we must patiently wait. In the meantime, he will be faithful to comfort us and to enable us to endure.
“You have need of endurance,” he said “so that when you have done the will of God you will receive what has been promised.” (Heb 10:36)
“Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” (Heb 11:1 NLT)
“Trust in Him at all times, O people; Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us. Selah.” (Psalm 62:8)
Lord, intercede on our behalf and give us faith. Give us eyes to see, ears to hear, hearts to understand, and sound minds (in other words: help us not to “lose it” in crisis!). Strengthen us!