Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Faith Hall of Fame

I've heard Hebrews 11 described as the "Hall of Fame" of faith. In it we are reminded of the great saints of the Old Testament, and how pleasing their great faith was to the Lord. You know the passage, "By faith Abraham, even though he was past age..." (a tongue-in-cheek reference; see my critique of the translation of verse 11 here).

I wonder what the reference to Abel means when it says "And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead... (NIV, v.4)" Certainly it's not a reference to séances with the dearly departed. The NAB here, to me, seems a little clearer: "Through [Abel's faithful sacrifice] he was attested to be righteous, God bearing witness to his gifts, and through this, though dead, he still speaks."

Able speaks to me today, even though he is dead, by the witness I have received of his faithfulness. Two little thoughts from an old post help me draw meaning from this passage.

First, I would not know of Abel's (or any of the other Hall of Fame inductee's) faithfulness had it not been recorded for me in Scripture. In this way, Scripture bears witness to, or gives testimony about, what occurred. Without this testimony, Abel would be merely dead to me, not continuing to speak about how to live faithfully. And Scripture itself, as I noted in that old post, is only a sound witness where it is itself attested to me by reliable witnesses as the Word of God. I rely on a chain of testimony through the ages of the Church, because Scripture is not typically self-authenticating. It does not purport itself (in most parts) to be Holy Writ. So I believe that Abel's offering of firstfruits made "by faith" is a righteous act before God because a chain of witnesses through the ages attest to the validity of the Scripture attesting to this meaning of Abel's deeds.

Second, Abel (and the rest of the inductees) speak to me today as the great cloud of witnesses (Ch. 12, v. 1, which wraps up the Hall of Fame pericope). I have read the cloud of witnesses passage used in Catholic apologetics before, as a defense for the positions that those Saint-Christians who have gone before us are in this 'cloud'. As I said in that old post, I had previously thought of these saints in the Cloud as witnessing (i.e., observing) my life, watching me plod through this life, cheering me on. I believe though that, whether or not we add the Catholic Saints to those faithful in Hebrews 11, I previously had the meaning wrong. Those in this great cloud bear witness by the faithful lives they lived. They are not witnessing-seeing, they are witnessing-testifying. At least, that's how I see it when I read v.4 about Abel through to the cloud of witnesses text.

The question is, do I accept the testimony of these witnesses as I deliberate on how to conduct my own life?

3 comments:

Gil Garza said...

What you have come to is nothing known to the senses...What you have come to is Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem where the millions of angels have gathered for the festival, with the whole Church of first born sons, enrolled as citizens of heaven. You have come to God himself, the supreme Judge, and to the spirits of the upright who have been made perfect...We have been given possession of an unshakable kingdom. (Heb 12:18-28)

It seems to me that the witnesses in the Faith Hall of Fame both testify by their faith as well as intercede on our behalf.

Thos said...

Gil,

Thank you for your thoughts. That they intercede on our behalf does not seem to follow directly from Romans 12:1 (on the heels of Romans 11), but I certainly mean to be warm to the possibility that the Church came to see it as having that dimension as well, as it contemplated the matter.

Peace in Christ,
Thos.

Gil Garza said...

We have come to the spirits of the righteous who have been made perfect. Perhaps these spirits are completely disinterested in you and I? Perhaps charity has grown cold in them for the likes of you and I? Perhaps they are silent in their glorious realm?

Are they? Revelation tells us.