Along side the remarkable event of the Transfiguration we have the passage from Hebrews. “Faith is the realization (assurance) of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” Some translations use the word ‘assurance’ instead of ‘realization.’ That alternative would seem more appropriate given the fact that faith is a gift of God.
‘Realization’ is something that I discover in my thought process; ‘assurance’ is something given to me by another.
Image by olga volkovitskaia
By Steve Hall
The readings paired for today provide a study of opposites. The Gospel of Mark tells us of Peter, James and John present on Mt Tabor with Jesus at the moment of the Transfiguration. As recorded by Mark, the incident must have been overwhelming—dazzling white garments, the appearance of Elijah and Moses and subsequently, a voice from a cloud. The text tells us that the disciples were terrified. It also tells us that Peter began babbling about ‘tents’ or booths reflecting his desire to prolong the experience.
Theologians generally explain that, in the Transfiguration, the divinity of Jesus was manifest. Yet the disciples remain ignorant of what ‘rising from the dead’ meant and pursue a time worn debate about the return of Elijah. There is no indication that the experience significantly affected their faith, or lack thereof. That would probably come later.
Further reading of the Gospel texts suggest that their faith in Jesus continued to be muddled as He continued to surprise them; and this would continue even after the Resurrection as shown by Thomas’ clearly expressed doubt and his need to see if he is to believe. It is in this context that we hear Jesus say: "You have believed because you have seen me. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe." (John20:29)
Along side this remarkable event we have the passage from Hebrews. “Faith is the realization (assurance) of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” Some translations use the word ‘assurance’ instead of ‘realization.’ That alternative would seem more appropriate given the fact that faith is a gift of God. ‘Realization’ is something that I discover in my thought process; ‘assurance’ is something given to me by another.
Another way of saying this might be that faith is the knowing that there is truth in what is hoped for even when it is not seen. The author of the text offers several examples. The first two are sufficient to clarify the teaching. First he points to inherent awareness that “. . . the universe was ordered by the word of God, so that what is visible came into being through the invisible.” Obviously there are those who dispute this, though such was not so much the case in Jesus’ day. The second example deals more directly with understanding the nature of faith. It recalls the Genesis story of the brothers, Cain and Able.
“In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel brought some of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.” (Genesis 4:3-5)
While the text is ambiguous about God’s rejection of Cain’s offering, scholars generally believe that the reader is to understand that, while Able’s gift was from the best of his flock, Cain’s gift was from what was available. That brings up an interesting question regarding the difference in the faith of the two men.
It would be reasonable to assume that a strong faith in the existence of God, in His being the creator of all things, in his infinite goodness and love for his creation including me would provoke an appropriate response. We wouldn’t think of giving a second rate gift to our mother for her birthday—though it is worthwhile noting that, in all probability, we desired to give more than we could. And that, just because she is our mother. Why would we be careless or indifferent in our gift to the One who is the very source of our existence?
Why? The only possible explanation lies in not knowing Him for who He is but thinking of Him in lesser terms. We are lacking in our Assurance of what we hope for—a God who really is infinite love.
Like the three disciples on Mt Tabor, we see but only marginally believe. Rather, we stand, like Cain, on the edge of belief and offer what is available—just in case.
Whether atheists, agnostics or just-in-case believers, I would bet that all, in their heart of hearts, would be grateful for the existence of a God who is truly God, more than just a reality that we can only hope for. That being the case, it might be wise to ask Him to provide whatever assurance we need.