The Unseen

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.

By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.” For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

Hebrews 11:1-12 (NIV)

As the gift of science has advanced, we have learned fascinating truths about our world, nature and our very selves. The discoveries have not been limited to just our world but have included understandings about space, planets, and our universe. We have come to gain insight into neutrons, protons, electrons, microscopic animals, amebas, germs, parasites and an endless list of objects which are undetectable with the naked eye. Aspects of the air we breathe, the air which moves the trees and the weather around us are all not visible to us but science has helped us understand these in deeper ways. What once was invisible and unknown to us has become familiar.

The writer of Hebrews speaks of the unknown. Here the unknown is in regards to spiritual matters and humanity’s relationship with the Lord. The passage starts with a definition of faith. Then the writer gives examples of faith from the forming of the universe, to Abel, to Enoch, to Noah, to Abraham. Faith is required of us to trust in that which we cannot physically confirm.

The definition of faith provided here is not unlike the mindset a scientist must have. The role of a scientist is to prove a theory based on assumptions or witnessing the effect something has on something else. At the start, the scientist must have confidence that there exists an element which may not be visible at first. When it comes to our faith in the Lord, we must begin with a confidence that the Lord exists and is responsible for what we experience. Then, like the scientist, we witness the evidence that what we believe is true. Until the day we see the Lord face-to-face, we find assurance and hope in our faith.

Impossible to Possible

In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.

Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”

21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. 22 When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.

23 When his time of service was completed, he returned home. 24 After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 25 “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”

Luke 1:5-25 (NIV)

Science is a wonderful gift which the Lord has given to us. There are some who try to pit science against faith. I do not understand this assumed conflict. Since all things come from God, science has its origin in God. God gave us the abilities to think, explore, discover and rationalize.There is no reason that the Lord would give these abilities to us and then expect us not to use them. Faith tells us that God created and interacts daily with all of creation, science attempts to tell us how. However, science does not  limit God’s ability to act in any manner. The passage for today brings before us what Zechariah’s knowledge tells him ispossible and what the Lord actually does. 

Zechariah was serving as a priest before God. He and his wife, Elizabeth, were older and childless. While he was alone in the temple burning incense, the angel Gabriel came to him and said Elizabeth would bear a son, John. He told Zechariah that John would be filled with the Spirit and would lead people back to God while making them ready for the Lord. Zechariah questioned this because they were both old. Because of his doubt, Gabriel said Zechariah would not be able to speak until the child was born. When Zechariah returned home, his wife became pregnant.

We can be like Zechariah in some situations. With our advancements in biology and medicine, as well as other scientific discoveries, we can claim something is impossible. God is not bound by our discoveries or the rules we claim exist in creation. There are times when the Lord acts in ways which we cannot explain now, or maybe ever. John had a very specific purpose and God chose to utilize two of the Lord’s servants to place this service into motion. The important message which Zechariah and Elizabeth provide us is that those things which we determine as impossible are possible with the Lord in fulfillment of a purpose. Also, the story reminds us that we still do not possess all knowledge.