September 10, 2007

When you’re dead, you’re dead?

Talk about death and you quickly learn whether or not someone has faith. Last night in a conversation with friends, our topic turned to how we should act as Christians in the places we work. One man told of another man where he worked who was bold and often asked people if they knew where they would go when they died. As he related this, one young person in our group said, somewhat quietly but with great amusement, “You go six feet under.” His mother shushed him.

This morning I’m reading in Hebrews 11 with its descriptions of people with faith. Verse 7 says, “By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet see, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.”

Faith is a response to what God says even though a person cannot see with their eyes what He is talking about. It is that inner knowing that something is true even though it cannot be proven by material evidence.

Faith is not rare. I believe lots of things I cannot see. Electricity is the standard argument, but not the best comparison since my faith that it will work is sometimes disappointed. Nevertheless, I’m still trusting something I cannot see.

Faith in God is not so much about putting my confidence in something unseen as it is about the power and the ability of that unseen Object of my faith. With electricity, the power company is fallible but God makes the opposite claim. When He says something, He will not let me down because He is always true and right, always faithful and trustworthy. Faith is believing that God is who He claims to be.

Noah somehow heard God say that He was going to do something about the wickedness of man, but He wanted Noah and his family to escape that judgment. He told him to build a big boat. In those days, a boat would have been a total oddity. The people who knew Noah would have thought this more weird than any inventions made by modern man. He may have been ridiculed for his folly, and even more so for believing God was going to do something that they could not see or imagine.

The young fellow of our conversation about death was no less skeptical. All he could see about dying is that the person who dies is put in a hole in the ground and covered with dirt; the end. The others in our group who believe what God says about death seemed to him the same as Noah’s contemporaries. They were saying, A boat? A flood? Rain? Judgment? Noah, you are a fool (It had not yet rained on the earth.) He was saying, Life after being buried? Going up into heaven? Spending eternity with a carpenter from Nazareth? You people are idiots.

It isn’t that people without faith in God cannot believe in something they cannot see. I’m sure this fellow believes in electricity. It’s just that he is not able to believe what God says about what he cannot see. But biblical faith is about God, and about Jesus Christ, not about putting confidence in something unseen, like what happens when you die. It is about knowing God exists and knowing that He is One who rewards those who believe in Him. It is about knowing that whatever God says is true and right, including what He says about death.

Once given the gift of faith (and it is a gift, Ephesians 2:8-9), we who have it find it hard to understand the perspective of those who do not. God seems so obvious. I look around me, at the heavens, at the earth, at a child, at the intricacies of the human body, at the marvel of a flower or the northern lights, or the way chemical elements work, and see Intelligence behind all that. I pray and what I ask for is granted without me manipulating to make it happen. We pray for someone who is gravely ill and they, much to the surprise of medical personnel, get better. And even when God seems ‘away on vacation’ He is gracious, even explaining that sense of His absence later, when His presence is ‘felt’ or even seen. To me, evidence for God is all over the place.

Yet to those without faith, this great universe ‘just happened’ and the people in it are nothing special. The beauty around us is seldom noticed, answered prayer is a coincidence, there is no God and when you die, you go into a hole.

Noah knew better. He proved it by building the arc that saved him and his household. Not only that, his obedience produced by his faith condemned the world because it declared God is right and you are wrong. The world ridiculed and hated that declaration—and it still does.

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