The writer of Hebrews tells us that faith “is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” The writer then notes that such “faith” (which can be synonymously understood as “trust”) is “what the ancients were commended for” (Hebrews 11: 1, 2). The writer proceeds to list some of those commended ancients, among them Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Moses. The chapter concludes with a list of other unnamed prophets whose “faith” gave them the courage to face being stoned, sawed in two, and martyred by the sword (v. 37)—so much for the notion that such “faith” automatically makes life free of stress and complications.
Of course, the object of the “faith” described in Hebrews 11 is the living, loving, and Holy God. Psalm 103 tells us that the love of this faithful God is from “everlasting to everlasting,” an unchanging faithfulness that strengthens and deepens our faith in Him.
Yet, the characteristics of such faith are really no different than the “faith” that governs and guides any interpersonal relationship, whether with a best friend, business partner, or ministry colleague—essentially, anyone you trust. Friendships and partnerships require interpersonal faith to function. For friendships to continue, each participant must have faith in, must trust, their friend’s ability to keep their promises, provide the necessities of friendship, and abide by the rules or shared norms of friendship.
The Ark of the Covenant, placed in the middle of the most holy room in ancient Israel’s Tabernacle, can be seen as the symbolic center of the relational contours of reality. The three objects within the Ark (Aaron’s staff, the jar of manna, and the Ten Commandments) represent three complex categories that make faith necessary and healthy relationships possible—foremost our relationship with God. Aaron’s rod that “budded,” reminded Israel of the certainty of God’s promises. The “jar of manna” reminded them of God’s ability to provide. The Ten Commandments provided the moral landscape of relational life and vitality with the Lord. On every day but one, God’s Spirit hovering above the Ark was symbolically reminded of the relational sin of His people. The nation had failed to have faith in their God’s promises, disregarded His ability to provide, and disobeyed the relational norms of holiness.
Similarly, for us to have “faith” in God, it will constitute trusting in His promises, believing in His ability to provide for His creation, and keeping God’s relational “norms.” And when we sin, our “falling short” (Romans 3:23) is naturally connected to these same three relational categories.
But, again, these same relational categories not only inform and infuse our relationship with God, but all our relationships. All our relationships require “faith” to thrive, let alone survive. And, similarly, any “falling short” in our relationships with friends and colleagues (anyone you must trust) will have the same effect. For instance, just as not trusting in God’s promises results in relational “sin” against God, not having faith in a friend’s promises, when they have given you no reason to mistrust them, will result in relational wounding. We are naturally upset when a family member or friend disregards a relational rule.
This is partially why the Apostle Paul notes, “Without faith, it is impossible to please God.” No friend would be pleased if we had unwarranted doubts in their character or credibility. We would not be pleased if a colleague pulls away without regard of our relational faithfulness.
A few paragraphs above I noted that every day but one the contents of the Ark of the Covenant served as a reminder of the sin of Israel. The golden angels fashioned on the top of the Ark looked down on the “mercy seat” above the three articles inside. Only on “The Day of Atonement” (Yom Kippur) the high priest, dressed to ceremonial perfection (Exodus 28), would sprinkle the top of the Ark with the blood of a sacrificial bull or goat (Leviticus 16). On that day, our Creator would not see the “sin,” but the sacrificial blood.
Of course, the “faith” of the Christian (Hebrews 9:11-28) is directed to the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, whose promise of forgiveness, whose redemptive provision, and whose sinless life makes possible a relational joy built for eternity—from “everlasting to everlasting!”
Paul D. Patton, Ph.D., is a professor of communication and theater at Spring Arbor University in Michigan. He has graduate degrees in Guidance and Counseling, Religious Education, and Script and Screenwriting, and a doctorate in Communication with an emphasis in theater arts. He has been married to his wife Beth for over forty years and has three daughters (all actresses)—Jessica, Emily, and Grace, three sons-in-law, David, Joe, and Eric, and four grandsons, Caleb Rock, Logan Justice, Micah Blaze, and Miles Dean.