The Conviction of Things Not Seen

For those of you who do not know, I have two brothers, one older and one younger. Once a year we all get together with my dad for a little trip where we catch a Laker game and usually explore a city which is new to us. This year we went to New Orleans, but we have been to Boston, Philly, Salt Lake City and others.

Exploring a new place with my brothers is interesting, for though we all grew up in the same home, we all see the world in radically different ways. While I am a theologian and parish pastor, my older brother directs and runs a custom netting company in Florida. He makes everything from safety nets for ballparks, to decorative netting for Disney World. My little brother is a civil engineer. Working on everything from building retaining walls, to bridges, to the design and layout of a quarry. This means on a single drive from the airport to the hotel, though we will all take in the same sights along the way, what we see is actually quite different. Jason will talk about why there is a certain sort of netting protecting a rooftop ventilation system on the building we just passed, as Travis comments on how the architect and engineers must have had quite a fight over the design of the façade of the same building, while I tend to wonder about what sort of work is done and by what sort of people.

A person’s occupation can have a great affect towards coloring how they see their world. If you were a professional carpet cleaner, no doubt most places you entered you would see things in the carpet the rest of us would overlook. The same goes for political assumptions. A liberal and a conservative have different defaults they use when evaluating the world around them. These are shaped by how they believe things ought to be working, what the role of the government is and what responsibility falls in the hands of the average citizen. New data will be processed accordingly, and it is very difficult to change how one sees their world.

So, I do not think we should be surprised how, when it comes to our faith, we will find the language of sight to be close at hand. Your faith enables you to see the world in which you live in a particular way. You see everything a little differently from others because of your faith. The way you see the world, the way you see yourself, the way you see your friends and family, the way you see those gathered here today, all of it is filtered, if you will, by your faith. Faith gives to all people a unique way to see. This is just as true for the Christian, as it is for the Muslim or the Hindu or the Atheist. Whether your faith is in a creative God who spoke all things into being or in a cosmic big-bang, belief impacts how you see.

The author of Hebrews speaks about faith in this way. He says, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (11:1). The assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen. Faith is certain of something which cannot be seen. Now I do not think the intention here is to provide you with a perfect definition of what faith is but, rather, he is describing to you what faith does, what the ramifications of faith are. As he turns his attention back to those who have gone before us, he recounts what their faith did. By faith Abel brought forward his offering to God, an offering that was better than the one Cain brought forward. It was an offering made in the conviction of something beyond what the world sees. By faith Enoch pleased God and so was taken away from this life without tasting death. By faith Noah trusted in something the world could not only see, but something they ridiculed. By faith he clung to the Word of God and built the Ark saving his family and all the animals. By faith Abraham, Isaac and Jacob journeyed and endured in their quests. By faith Sara was given a child, though she was barren. These and so many others lived lives of faith, and they died in that faith.

Their faith was marked by conviction and assurance. They moved forward, they endured, they pressed on even though the world would oppress and ridicule them, for they saw something others could not. Again, we read in the letter to the Hebrews how, “these all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar…” (11:13). Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, things not yet received. But by faith they see it from afar. They saw something they longed for but did not receive in this life. They saw the fulfillment of all the promises of God. They saw the Promised Land. They saw how all things worked toward the culmination of God’s blessings. This sight was the guide of their life. It shaped how they conducted themselves and how they saw the world in which they lived.

And you possess such sight yourself, you have this conviction that guides you. After all, you are the Baptized, the Saints of God. By faith you trust in His Word. You have conviction that what He has promised He will see through. Like those faithful men and women who have gone before you, you face the trials and sufferings of this age with the eyes of faith. Perhaps this means you see cause for joy in hard circumstances, or you see chances for kindness and forgiveness in unloving times. But it could simply be you can see how this age is not all there is. There is something greater to come, something you see from afar. I cannot tell you how many times I have been at the bedside of a dying brother or sister and found them consumed not by fear or despair or grief, but an overwhelming sense of confidence and hope. Confidence this is not the end. There will be a greater day to come, a day of resurrection, a day of victory over the grave, a day of reunion with those they are leaving. It is by faith they see such things, faith alone.

That sort of powerful sight of faith is not found in your work or your desire or effort, but in the gifts and promises of Christ for you. Your faith is rooted in the only begotten Son of God, who lived, suffered, died and rose again for your salvation. You believe in what He has done. You believe, not in yourself, but in His work, in His victory, in His all-sufficient grace.

But make no mistake, this faith is not the easy way out. To see things with the eyes of faith is a daring task. For you will be constantly challenged to abandon it, to take up instead some other way of seeing. Perhaps the pressure will come from a more socially acceptable way of viewing the world, one more popular or trendy. Perhaps it is simply one which makes your life the easiest, one seeming to be the path of least resistance. Maybe the greatest good is to just live for yourself, to make sure you get what you want when you can. Or perhaps it is to live a good life that inspires others or leaves a legacy. The shifting competition to see things differently always seeks to move your assurance and conviction away from the promises of God to something else. And along the way your vision gets blurry.

So, what do you do? Well, you do what we all do when our eyes hurt. You close your eyes for a moment, you stop searching around with your eyes and, instead, attend to what you hear. There in the darkness you begin to hear all the competing voices of all the competing visions. But there is one which rises above, one voice breaks into the darkness with a blinding light. It is a voice which speaks completely differently than anything else being offered. In fact, everything else melts into a background hum when compared to this one voice. It is the voice of the Creator, the voice that established the rotation of the earth and created light itself. And with clarity and unwavering resolve this voice speaks to you today and says, “I love you. I forgive you all your sins. I have done what you could not. I died for you and rose for you and will welcome you into paradise. I have not forgotten you and will not forsake you.”

And so, you cling to that Word. You hold tight to all it is and all it promises. This Word is your hope and your confidence. It is the source of your faith. Then you open your eyes again, and again you march on in this life. Living each and every day with the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen. Living as children of promise, as children of the Word of God.