One of my favorite bible chapters for a long time has been Hebrews 11. I remember hearing it preached as a teenager, when my faith was being challenged by realities of the world, and moving beyond the easier, Sunday-school style answers, seeking more substantial answers to difficult problems. The writer defines faith as ‘assurance of things hoped for’. This is the sort of faith I aspire to- which we all aspire to- faith which is sure, and confident. He backs up this bold statement in Hebrews 11 with a list of 16 faith ‘heroes’ in Chapter 11. Ranging from Abraham, Moses and Noah to David and Samuel to the whole of Israel (implied in v 29). He describes their faith journeys with the Lord, both in terms of what they were able to accomplish ‘by faith’ and in terms of the way God blessed them. All these people held on to their faith with assurance and acted on it. These people surely [saw] the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living’ Psalm 27:13.
And yet, we are faced, right in the middle of the list, and at the end, with verse 13; ‘All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth’. And verses 39-40; ‘yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, without us, be made perfect’.
The Bible is filled with literally thousands of promises for God’s people. Many of those listed in Hebrews 11 saw amazing miraculous things happen in their lives. But the writer is emphasizing that no matter how greatly God has blessed us- and many of these men and women were blessed greatly- we are still foreigners on earth, this is not our ultimate destination. They had many many blessings, but they also experienced the pain of unfulfilled promises, because God is going to fulfil those promises in his time, when we reach our ‘homeland’ (v14), because he knows that this is ‘something better’ for us (v 40).
This is the pain and tension we live with today. We see so many wonderful things happen every day because of God. And yet there is so much pain, evil, sickness and heartbreak. Realities we are even more aware of in this season of Lent. But these verses give me so much hope. These leaders of faith died in faith, even though they did not see all their promises fulfilled. They died, assured of what they hoped for, even though those things that were promised to them did not come true in their lifetime (v13, v1).
This has been so encouraging to me as I serve with International Justice Mission in Thailand. I see our staff striving so hard to secure justice for the poor- to hold perpetrators of sexual violence accountable for their crimes, to help restore the victims, to secure citizenship for those who have been illegally denied it. But there are many times when we cannot help. There are many people that we cannot reach. There are judgements that don’t go how we want, and clients who are ineligible, there are children who do not want to be healed. And it is heartbreaking. But for them, and for our hurting world, I hold on to the ‘assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen’ (v1) and I desire a ‘better country, that is, a heavenly one’ (v16) where there will be no more tears (Isaiah 25:8)
By Lucy McCray, with the IJM in Thailand