All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance….
Hebrews 11:13 (NIV)
Yesterday morning a woman came up to me amidst our local gathering of Jesus’ followers and shared with me some things that God has been teaching her of late. These things dove-tailed with some of the very insights God has been revealing to me in my contemplation.
“I just wonder why it’s taken me 35 years to see these things,” I laughed, shaking my head.
“Because we didn’t need to see them until now,” she answered matter-of-factly. “They are for this time and place.”
I find it equally fascinating that I can read God’s Message over and over and over again, but there are certain things which leap off the page as if I’ve never seen them before. That’s what happened as I read this morning’s chapter, which is a very famous chapter about faith. The author of this letter to early Hebrew followers of Jesus is a Hall of Fame walk through of the ancient heroes of faith. From Cain and Abel through Rahab, the prostitute of Jericho (I love that Rahab was included in the list), the writer shows how each of these ancients embraced faith.
What I had never seen clearly until this morning was that twice the author acknowledges that in many cases these heroes of faith did not receive what was promised during their earthly journey. First it’s mentioned (vs. 13) that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob believed that their tribes would become a great nation and have their own “promised land” to call home. The “promised land” was never established during their lifetimes. They lived in pursuit of a promise that they would not realize in their lifetimes.
At the very end of the chapter, the writer reiterates [emphasis added]:
These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
I have learned in my own journey, particularly as Wendy and I have walked through the long valley of infertility, that there is a certain depth of faith that one only realizes when what is promised is not received (or not received as expected) in this lifetime. I have never understood why God answers the prayers of some and not others. I don’t know why some are healed and some are not. I don’t know why some get pregnant and we did not.
There are answers out there. My spirit sees them “from a distance” as the author of Hebrews wrote.
I have faith in that.