Friday, September 7, 2012

when God's promises are not fulfilled

You know Hebrews 11?  It's a pretty famous chapter. 

It's the, "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen," chapter.

It's an encouraging chapter -- one we read over and over again -- as we walk through the "Faith Hall of Fame," as it is sometimes called. 

Friends, there is something so deep about this chapter.  I believe it answers head-on the whole, "How could there be a loving God if people suffer?" question.

I'm not downplaying that question.  It's a fair question -- one that ought to be wrestled with in our attempts to understand God -- one that, even though I "know" the answers, I still find troubling.  I constantly find myself calling out to God, on behalf of others I know who suffer very deeply and others I do not know that suffer unthinkable things.  My soul cries out.

So anyways.  Back to Hebrews 11.  We read a list of people who are commended for their faith: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, and then: a very surprising verse.  One I find that I have often overlooked.

"All these I have mentioned died in faith without receiving the full promises, although they saw the fulfillment as though from a distance."
Hebrews 11:13, The Voice

You know I never thought about the fact that Abraham and Sarah never actually saw on this earth the fulfillment of God's covenant to them.  They had Isaac.  They never saw their descendents numbering the sand on the seashore and the stars in heaven.  And yet they had faith.  They believed.
It goes on.  Bear with me here -- try to read the whole passage.

"And what more shall I say?  For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Hephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets--

who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.  Women received back their dead by resurrection.  

Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.  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.

And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect."

Hebrews 11:32-40, ESV

These verses are so important because -- well, hey, I don't know what you've been taught in the American-version of Christianity, but I know I've been taught -- sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly -- that if I follow God, I will be happy.  I will be "blessed" by material things.  Everything will be okay.  

If I follow God, I will certainly be blessed, but God does not promise blessing by material things.  He does not promise safety.  In fact, He promises the opposite.

Don't believe me?  Check out what Jesus says in Matthew 10:

"Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves."
Matthew 10:16, ESV

Jesus tells us to take up the cross daily and follow Him.  He says we will suffer for His name's sake.  

Okay, so Christians will suffer.  What about others who are suffering?

I guess what I'm saying is this life is not the end.  This life is only a blink of an eye in the scope of eternity.  There is Hope.  More specifically: there is Hope in Christ Jesus.  

What we see in this life is broken, twisted, and evidence that sin has entered the world -- but we were only given the option to sin because God loves us and does not want us to be robots.  He wants true love -- love that is a choice -- a commitment.  Because we do not choose to love Him all the time, sin is in the world.  Every bit of brokenness and suffering we see is a result of sin. 

God will redeem it -- and by it, I mean everything.  A new heaven and new earth.  Let me say it again: There is Hope.  We may not see the promises of renewal in this life, but if we hope in the Lord, we will see it someday -- just as Abraham and Sarah can see their descendents today.

And when I think again about my friends who suffer deeply -- about those I do not know who suffer unthinkable things, Jesus' words of the Beatitudes ring in my head...

 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
Matthew 5:3-10, ESV
  • What other thoughts do you have about Hebrews 11?  
  • Have you been taught that if you follow God, everything will be fine in this life?  How have you wrestled with this?
  • How have you wrestled with the reality of suffering in this world?

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