Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)
What is faith? Our Hebrews text is deeply concerned with this question, and it’s an important one. Christians are people of faith; faith is the essence of our identity. Over thousands of years, Christians around the world have pondered the content of our faith, asking questions such as: who is the God in whom we have faith? What does our faith believe and confess about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ? What is the role of the Holy Spirit in faith?
These questions are important. Yet, as this text teaches us, it is equally important to ask: what is faith, exactly? How does faith actually work in real life? Is faith a belief of the mind, or a feeling of the heart? Is faith an inward attitude or an outward action? Likely, the answer is that faith is both: it is belief and feeling, attitude and action. Our text tells us that faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” and also that faith is human choices and actions that create hope and love. The author of Hebrews finds faith in Noah’s belief that God is telling the truth, and in Noah’s building of the ark for a flood yet to come. Abraham and Sarah’s trust in God’s promises is faith; and so is their journey toward these promises. In all the examples Hebrews provides, we can see people leaving behind the familiar and known, risking the new and unknown, for the sake of possibility and the hope that God is with them.
Palestinians, including Palestinian Christians, know a lot about what it means to have this kind of faith: to persevere in hope and love even when justice, human dignity, and liberation are “not seen” despite decades of struggle. Like Abel, too many Palestinians have lost their lives to unjust violence; of many, we might say, “they died, but through their faith they still speak.” Like Abraham and Sarah and their children, many have “stayed for a time in the land [they] had been promised, as in a foreign land,” living not always in tents, but behind walls and checkpoints, treated as trespassers on their own land. Generations of Palestinians, some still holding the keys to their old homes, have “died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them.”
Many Palestinians have a word for the faith described in this Hebrews text: sumud (صمود). Sumud means something like “steadfastness,” and it has become a word that expresses Palestinians’ faith active in hope and love. Sumud can take many forms: protest, advocacy, art, beauty, storytelling, education. To proclaim and live one’s full humanity, in the face of systems designed to dehumanize, is sumud. To live as though justice and liberation are possible, even though this “thing hoped for” is still a “thing unseen,” is sumud. Sumud is faith active in hope and love—and for those living in such faith, “God is not ashamed to be called their God.”
God of faith, hope, and love,
We lift our prayers for all the people of Palestine and Israel. Sustain all those who, guided by the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen, strive for a just peace. Help us to trust in your promises and your power to make the impossible possible, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.