August 1, 2007, Minneapolis, Minnesota
“We walk by faith, not by sight,” says Paul in II Corinthians 5:7, and isn’t that the truth? Each week I lead worship, talking about and saying prayers to a God I cannot see, but believe in by faith. There are many good and logical and historical reasons for believing in the God of the Bible, but there is no absolute proof. Ever since Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden, God has hidden himself from our eyes, and now, faith is what we have to depend on.
Therefore, the Bible is big on faith, as you might well imagine. Its pages are filled with the stories of faithful people, with commands to have faith, and with encouragements to that life of faith. Nowhere is this more evident than in Hebrews chapter eleven. This chapter has been called Faith’s Hall of Fame because it recalls many of the Old Testament heroes, and lists the many things they were able to accomplish by faith. The chapter describes the great faith of Noah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Samson, David, Samuel, and more. “We walk BY FAITH,” said Paul in the verse I began with, and that phrase BY FAITH, is repeated 22 times in this one chapter. By faith Noah built the ark, by faith Abraham and Sarah were enabled to become parents in their old age, by faith Moses parted the Red Sea, by faith the walls of Jericho fell; and so on. And, by faith we go to church on Sunday morning to worship a God we do not yet see, believing in a promise of eternal life which we cannot yet confirm. We do indeed walk by faith and not by sight.
And many folks will have none of that. ‘Seeing is believing’ would be their motto and if it cannot be seen, it will not be believed. They want to live their lives by the facts, and by what they can confirm on their own; so there will be no wishful thinking or faith in the unseen or the uncertain for them.
But like it or not, we all live much of our lives by faith. We have no choice. Even the most convinced atheist is walking by faith and not by sight a good share of the time. I will tell you what I mean by using that often used Biblical phrase ‘by faith’ in a slightly different context. “By faith we drive our cars onto and over highway bridges.” True or false? Of course that is true, and no one in Minnesota is going to argue that point. We all well remember the special news report on August 1, 2007, when we learned that the Highway 35W bridge over the Minnesota River in Minneapolis had collapsed. Thirteen people were killed and 145 were injured– and everyone gave some thought to what it means to have confidence in the people who make and maintain the bridges that we cross. Think about it. Every time you cross a bridge you are putting your faith in the designer that drew up the plans for that bridge, the construction company that built it, the inspectors that evaluate its condition, and the politicians that vote for or against funding to keep those bridges in good repair. Paraphrasing Paul we might say, ‘we walk, and drive, by faith, and not only by sight.’ You can’t go very far without having to cross a bridge. When you get to a bridge, do you always get out and check it over first, before you drive out onto it? Or, do you trust that others have done so and put your faith in them?
Even if you don’t have to cross any bridges, you still need a lot of faith if you want to go anywhere in your car. By faith, you will need to trust that every driver you meet will stay on his or her side of the road. Drivers don’t always do that, and there is no way to check out ahead of time who you will be meeting and if they are sober, healthy, and not distracted by their cell phone. Bridge or no bridge, you never know for sure when you get in your car to go anywhere if you will ever reach your destination. You have to have faith in the driving skills of many people that you do not even know.
This is only one of countless examples. Did you ever go to the doctor, have surgery, eat in a restaurant, ride in an elevator, listen to the weather report of storm warnings, call an ambulance, fly in an airplane, or go on a carnival ride? Are you getting the picture? We are walking by faith, and not by sight, all the time. Yet, doctors make mistakes, people sometimes get sick in restaurants, weather reports can be wrong, planes crash, and roller coasters occasionally have problems. So what do you do? Do you stay home and not make a move? Or, do you keep going, living each day ‘by faith and not by sight.’ Every day we get a lot of practice in living by faith. You cannot live without faith.
This is not exactly the same kind of faith as the faith in God that is described in the Bible, but this does illustrate how it works. When you cross a bridge, you are putting your life in the hands of others. You are trusting in them and the quality of their work for your safety. And when you must cross over from life into death, you are placing any future life you might have in the hands of God. In our lives right now, we have had plenty of experience in trusting God. It was God who gave us this life in the first place, and God who sustains this life with the miraculous workings of our bodies, and, with the miracle of growth of our food in the fields by the sun and the rain; all of which is out of our hands. And faith in God is not limited to our lives here, but contains promises that go beyond death. There is a big and uncertain bridge between here and whatever comes after death, and none of us have ever been on that bridge before; so we must venture out on by faith.
It takes faith to cross a bridge– faith in people we do not know. But we have crossed many bridges, and we have come to take for granted that it will be okay. And it is okay, almost every time. We have not yet ever crossed from death to life, but we do know of someone who has, our Lord Jesus Christ, and he has promised that same resurrection to all who will have faith in Him. (continued…)
Hebrews 11:1 — Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
Ephesians 2:8-9 — For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith— and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.
Protect me, dear Lord;
My boat is so small,
And your sea is so big.
–Breton fisherman’s prayer