17 October: Realities that are Unseen, I.

Welcome back to Sister Johanna with four reflections on Faith from the Letter to the Hebrews.

The Trinity Window from Berwick upon Tweed Church sets out to illustrate the mystery of the Trinity, but leaves it beyond my comprehension.

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Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of realities that are unseen (Hebrews 11: 1-2).

This verse from the Letter to the Hebrews caught my attention recently as I was doing my lectio divina.  When I read scripture slowly and prayerfully there’s no telling what the Holy Spirit might make me notice.  Passages that I have read many times before suddenly seem to start dancing on the page, saying “Look at me!” A single sentence–or even a single word of a biblical text–can keep me thinking and praying for a long time: days, weeks, years.

So what was it about this line from Hebrews that stopped me?  Well, in a way, the line felt not ‘wrong’ exactly, but there seemed to be a contradiction in it.  More thought, more prayerful silence helped me to pinpoint the cause of my unease.  It came from the way I tend to think of the notion of faith.  I was surprised that Hebrews seemed to be saying that faith could ‘guarantee’ or ‘prove’ spiritual realities.  Guarantee?  Prove?  Those words seemed too empirical, if you will.  Is faith about what can be proved and guaranteed?  Faith, I’ve tended to assume, steps in where guarantees and proofs walk out.  Faith is what you have when you hit against deep religious mysteries that no human mind can fully grasp.   God is Trinity, for example.  No matter how long I ponder this, I will never understand how God is three Persons in one nature.  But I have faith that it is true. The Incarnation.  Jesus is both God and man.  Unfathomable on the intellectual level.  But I have faith in its truth. There are vital elements of our religion that cannot be proved in the way we might prove a scientific reality, or, say, a mathematical construct, or prove something that can be known by the senses.  How does the concept of proof fit with the concept of faith?  I puzzled over this.  I reread the text: 

Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of realities that are unseen (Hebrews 11: 1-2).

I’d like to leave you for today to continue to ponder this text and these questions.  Perhaps you have other questions.  The Holy Spirit may lead your meditation down a different path.  Explore it.  Tomorrow we will continue our reflection.

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