tonight we looked at hebrews 10-12. it's a little bit dry but it's still interesting, and it's encouraging as well... much as a stiff drink in the face of an unwelcome chore or bad-tasting medicine in the face of dire illness.
hebrews is widely regarded as a letter of encouragement to Christians, especially those facing opposition from the world without and backsliding fellow-believers from within. i was unsurprised to hear (joseph, called) barnabas being put forward as a possible author for the book and adding him to the list of other suggested authors, including paul, apollos, priscilla, and aquila. in these particular chapters, i feel the encouragement is slightly stick-and-carrot and it feels that way to me because of the particular people being encouraged in this section - those thinking of giving up on their faith.
in chapter ten the writer to the hebrews sets forth a strong argument supporting the new covenant in Jesus over the old covenant of law - he demonstrates Christ's superiority to the angels who delivered the law; Christ's deity; his sonship; his high-priesthood; his sacrifice being of immeasurably greater efficacy than the sacrifices offered by priests in accordance with the law. in every way, Jesus is presented as being in one man everything the law should have been and could not be. in chapter eleven he gives the "roll-call of faith", people in israel's history who looked forward to the salvation that God would put forth in Christ. in chapter twelve the writer deals with the hardships that the hebrews have already dealt with, those that may be to come, and why they should persevere in the face of such experiences.
i think what makes this passage a bitter pill to swallow is that it's not just as easy as holding up under persecution. if society rounds up all the Christians and says, "right, you lot - it's time for you to go to the wall - recant or die", history seems to show that lots of Christians tend to find enough faith to say something like, "for eighty-six years i have been his servant and he has done me no wrong. how can I blaspheme against my king and saviour?" (polycarp at his martyrdom, smyrna, a.d.155)
what i think could be harder to deal with is when family, when friends, when even oneself is faced with the possiblity is recanting one's faith in Christ. i am always torn because i know in my heart that the gospel is real and true. i always have, ever since i was a small child at sunday school or in scripture classes at school. i never once thought that the Bible was full of lies - although to be perfectly honest, there have been times when i have wished it was. i have more than a few times wished that i could be free to live like everyone else, uncaring of a life after this one, unworried of how the way i live my life now might impact the health and welfare of my soul after i die. in so many ways life would be so much easier!
the temptation to give up my faith is always there, as paul says, "so i find it to be a law that when i want to do right, evil lies close at hand." [romans 7:21, esv] however, i consider it a great blessing from God that i find that temptation too obvious, too easy, too false to even pursue the thought very far. i sin - heaven knows, i sin - but when i sin i pray to God for forgiveness, for strength to resist the temptation to sin again, and for faith to no longer dwell on past sins but focus instead on future opportunities to serve him.
but that is me. when i see people falling away, what can i say? what can i do? i can encourage them, "read your Bible! pray!" i can do the same. i can "be there" for them, spend time with them, hang out with them, pray for them, do my best not to be a burden to them, give them their space to work things out. what kills me is that i can't make them change their minds, and i can't know if God will or not. it's not that i don't know if he will or not - God will, or not, according to his will, and his day-to-day will is not something he advertises on billboards. his eternal will - that all people should hear the gospel and believe - has been sent out all over the world. no surprises there. how that is effected throughout the world? loads of surprises there.
i get thoroughly disheartened when i hear that someone has turned away from being a Christian, or has "fallen away". i think so little of myself and my mean little belief that when i discover someone else has let go of Christianity, i am rocked that someone might have less faith than me or that maybe i am wrong. "if in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied." [1 corinthians 15:19, esv]
such a feeling lasts only a little while, because God soon reminds me that my faith (small) has a great object (God, eternal, infinite) which gives my faith an eternal and infinite impact. God isn't about, oh, that's your last chance, no more opportunities, you've really blown it this time! God is all about redemption, saving us from our sins, saving us from ourselves - saving us for himself. those people who have turned away from God can turn back. every breath they take is an opportunity to turn back to the one who paid for their lives with the blood of his very own son. (would you let your child go to the electric chair instead of jeffrey dalmer? would you put your baby in front of the car that hoon is driving down the street if it meant that that hoon would then be able to go to heaven, pimped-up ride and everything? - God did!)
so i pray for all those who have doubts, who are falling away. i hope they can feel that they're falling, that they become worried about it, that they seek help. i hope that when i feel like that, people will do the same for me. our God is a consuming fire, so he deserves reverence and respect - we shouldn't take him for granted, even if he does promise rest from this weary life. if you're falling away, don't give in. fight tooth and nail. if you once believed in the gospel, ask what has changed for you to stop believing in it - i guarantee the only thing that hasn't changed is the gospel. and it is no less trustworthy now than it was when you first believed - perhaps you've just become less trusting?
once you were sitting on balloons in a room full of pins, moving from one seat to the next, never quite knowing when you could relax. one day you sat on a milk-crate, and for the longest time you didn't have to worry about your seat disappearing from underneath you. all anyone in that room wants - at the end of the day, in one way or another - is rest, rest from work, from worry about the future, from trying to provide for every possibility. so now that you have that rest, why trade your seat for another balloon?