The New Testament book of Hebrews chapter 11 has been called “the great faith chapter” and “The Hall of Faith,” though the Bible uses neither descriptor. Some of the best known biblical stories and characters are mentioned in it: Moses, Noah, Abraham, Rahab. It reads like an Old Testament All-Star team.
Samson, I suppose, would be the Designated Hitter.
Unfortunately, the hero aspect is all that many Christians see in the chapter. As a result faith becomes something that guarantees a good outcome in every situation. It comes perilously close to magic.
Magic faith isn’t the pursuit of God; it’s a pursuit of “the win.”
Near the end of Hebrews 11 the writer recounts a number of lesser known and unknown faithful. The summary at times excludes names but include exploits. In verses 32-35a we read:
And what more can I say? Time is too short for me to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the raging of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, gained strength after being weak, became mighty in battle, and put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead—they were raised to life again.
This seems to fit the pattern with which we are familiar: have faith and all will work out. It’s as if life is one long Bob Marley soundtrack where “everything’s gonna be alright.” We get to stand on the neck of our enemies, beat our chest and unleash the primordial scream.
Or praise song.
But in verses 35b-38 the writer of Hebrews also includes these anonymous warriors of faith by listing their travails:
Some men were tortured, not accepting release, so that they might gain a better resurrection, and others experienced mockings and scourgings, as well as bonds and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawed in two, they died by the sword, they wandered about in sheepskins, in goatskins, destitute, afflicted, and mistreated. The world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and on mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.
Because getting cut in half with a saw is just like putting an army to flight, right?
In a day when we are told that new cars, houses, jets, riches, and the like are ours to claim, it may be shocking to read of the death and destruction accompanying faith. The deaths of Coptic and Ethiopian Christians at the hands of ISIS are more like biblical faith than the circus atmosphere of Bentleys, Breitlings and bling.
The second set of listed above also lived by faith. That their lives ended, or that they suffered was not an indication of little faith. On the contrary, it indicated the exact same faith as those we think of as heroes. They are not castigated for being faithless; they are commended for being faithful.
Faith is not magic. It isn’t bending the arc of the universe to my will. It is an unwavering trust in God no matter the consequences. The “reward” God promises is not comprised of trinkets and toys. It is He Himself. He is the reward faith grasps, finding a hand that never lets go.