The Idle Individual
The Letter to the Hebrews is written out of a concern for those it is addressed to, who had converted to the Christian faith but who were in danger at that moment of apostasy. This concern was not due to any persecution from outsiders, but to something more familiar to us today, that is, a weariness with the demands of the Christian life and a growing indifference. These concerns are clearly still with us today. They are very familiar. Because this is so, we can read Hebrews very personally as a challenge to restore and strengthen our own faith once again.
Life has a way of becoming routine at times, and torturous at others. Both of these realities can challenge our faith. Boredom is a deadly, infertile soil. Nothing grows in it. It is the both the cause and the effect of sloth, or laziness in all things. These attitudes are not conducive to our faith. A faith that has become boring and lazy is a faith that is easily abandoned. Sometimes we need to be challenged with our laziness, or our boredom. The writer of Hebrews is addressing these dangers with masterful grace and eloquence. The theme of “faith” is developed eloquently in this letter, not for its own sake, but as a means to restore the lost fervor of the people he is addressing and to strengthen them again in their faith. It is a message of encouragement. And so it is for us today. We ought to read this letter slowly, one section at a time, and then meditate on it, for it concerns the long “pilgrimage” that we are all on as Christians, the pilgrimage of the people of God to the heavenly kingdom of God.
The first words of chapter 11 in the Letter to the Hebrews, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see,” give us a perfect place to start our self-reflection on the well-being of our own faith. What can we be sure of? Because of the Incarnation of Jesus we can be sure that he took on our humanity with all of its defects except for sin. We can be sure that he bore the burden of all of our sins on the cross, even to death, out of love and his own obedience to the Father. Because of this we believe that this act of love is the very cause of our salvation. Because of what we have seen in Jesus, then, we can be sure of what we hope for, and certain about what we have not yet seen. But though we recognize these things, sometimes we grow weary of their implications on us in this life. As Christians we know that we are called to live in the manner of Christ every day. In doing so we can open ourselves up to experiencing the suffering of rejection, misunderstanding, even the hatred that Jesus experienced. This is very difficult and we tend to want to avoid such suffering, or we can become overwhelmed by it at times and desire to run or to hide from it. What, then, is the one and only thing that could keep us going? Only our faith in God and his promises for us.
Though the “evidence” of God’s love and his promises for us is before us, life has a way of clouding over our faith. The Evil One is motivated by a desire to dull our faith, to turn us away from it. God is obvious and true in all things. The devil, on the other hand, is subtle, coercive and manipulative. The greatest dangers to our own growth in faith are boredom and laziness, not fear. C.S. Lewis reveals this reality very clearly in his two wonderful little books, Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce. Fear is powerful, lively and intense. But fear can be addressed, met head on and conquered with faith. Laziness and boredom, on the other hand, are much more subtle as means to take us away from God, our faith, and its demands on us as Christians. These cloud our minds, delude us. The bored and the lazy will blame anything, or anyone else but themselves for their problems. Blame, rather than repentance fills their minds. They are unable to see themselves as sinners, only as victims. This kind of attitude is deadly to the gift of faith.
The Letter to the Hebrews challenges us to recognize that the trials of our faith should be resolved through our reflection on Jesus’ ministry and his perpetual intercession on our behalf. Lord, help us to grow daily in your generous gift of faith. Give us the graces we need to remain confident and sure, certain and faithful. Lead us away from temptations to laziness and boredom, and deliver us from the Evil One. We pray this in your name Jesus. Amen!
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