At AllFaith.com I share numerous studies into the world's religions based on my personal quest for Truth. Over the years this research has led me to embrace Judaism. That is now the main focus of the domain.
On my blogs I share many of these studies and invite your questions and comments.
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~ John of AllFaith
Friday, March 20, 2009
Understanding Faith: Hebrews 11 Tells Us a Lot About the Nature of Faith!
Hebrew 11 is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible. It contains important information many people seem to miss.
What is faith?
Faith or Pistis (pis'-tis) may be understood as the conviction or certitude in the predominate idea of trust (or confidence) in God, springing from faith in the same. This requires conviction in God's existence and ones relationship with Him.
This would be "blind faith" but there is more to it than this.
Faith is the substructure or foundation (the substance) of Elpizo (el-pid'-zo), in context the evidence (certainty) of divine intervention and blessing. This is Elegchos (el'-eng-khos) or evidence, confirmation. One places this faith in God and in what has been revealed by Him with the certainty that His word is dependable even before His will is manifested or Blepo (blep'-o).
So let's see the context:
1 Now faith is assurance of [things] hoped for, a conviction of things not seen.
2 For therein the elders had witness borne to them.
3 By faith we understand that the worlds have been framed by the word of God, so that what is seen hath not been made out of things which appear.
So, the one who exercises pistis or faith is not doing so willy nilly. They are directing their conviction in areas harmonious with God's revealed Will.
We may not understand how "the worlds have been framed by the word of God" but because "we have the evidence of God's existence" within our consciousness and we know His goodness and power, we can accept that in some way the worlds have been framed by the word of God. Then we study the Scriptures hoping to understand intellectually how He did it. Our intellect is imperfect and we may fail to understand everything correct and yet we can have faith in God.
4 By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he had witness borne to him that he was righteous, God bearing witness in respect of his gifts: and through it he being dead yet speaketh.
Much could be said of these men two but I don't want to go into it here, however, Abel inwardly knew God and based on this knowing of the God of his understanding his sacrifice was accepted while Cain's, which was a technically "better" sacrifice was rejected.
5 By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and he was not found, because God translated him: for he hath had witness borne to him that before his translation he had been well-pleasing unto God:
Enoch attained such a deep level awareness/harmony of God that he actually transcended material existence. This can best be understood in terms of the nirguna/saguna dichotomy described in the Sanatana Dharma sastras (the scriptures of India). By the absolute certainty of his pistas, which is to say, by virtue of his faith, his consciousness received absolute validation/realization of God's Oneness and he was absorbed into this "Knowing" whereby the God of his understanding was the fullness of God. Such a person is described in the Vedas as an Uttama Adhikari. Such a great soul is rare in this world. This is the consciousness Master Y'shua attained and therefore he became Christ (fully anointed) and is what is meant by the encouragement to seek "the righteousness of God in Christ [the Anointing]."
Of such a person Master Y'shua tells us:
John 14:12 Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater [works] than these shall he do; because I go unto the Father.
Faith is powerful! This chapter then goes on to give other examples of people applying their faith to achieve the unachievable.
Hebrews 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to be well-pleasing [unto him]; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and [that] he is a rewarder of them that seek after him.
Why is this? It is because even though people can achieve great things without faith in God, those things that are truly important require faith. Faith in the God of ones understanding.
What does "Faith in the God of ones understanding" mean? It means that none of us know God in full. As Paul explained, we are all gazing into a "darkened mirror" however God reveals what we need to know on a "need to know" basis.
One person calls God by one name, another uses another. My son calls me "dad," Andy calls me "honey" or "sweety," my neighbor calls me "John," my Hindu friends call me "Jagannatha Prakasa," my Sikh friends know me as "Sat Kewal Singh," my Muslim friends (and yes I have many still) know me as "Muhammad Yahya Saleem," my Pagan friends call me "Cadifor ap Colwen," most of you good folks know me as "Ben Ruach haKodesh" or "John of AllFaith" and so on... but I am one (so to speak) and God is One. He is attained through faith.
Hebrews 11 therefore is not suggesting blind faith. It is suggesting a powerful knowing and merging of ones consciousness into that knowing.
Where mysticism fits into this is that mystics seek to categorize their supra-mundane experiences in order to delve ever deeper into the well of spiritual realization. Most devout religious people on the other hand seek to incorporate their spiritual realizations into this life. There are other fundamental differences between mystics and religionists but in this context this one is important to understand.
Consider for instance Georges Gurdjieff's experiences with the Sarmoung Brotherhood. That's mysticism. Consider the experiences of Jullian of Norwich locked in her cell, that's mysticism.
Consider this definition:
This is a belief in or the pursuit in the unification with the One or some other principle; the immediate consciousness of God; or the direct experience of religious truth. Mysticism is nearly universal and unites most religions in the quest for divinity. It can also be a sense of mystical knowledge. Dionysius the Areopagite was the first to introduce the concept "unknown knowing" to the Western World. In areas of the occult and psychic it denotes an additional domain of esoteric knowledge and paranormal communication. Even though it is thought that just monks and ascetics can become mystics, mysticism usually touches all people at least once in their lives.
The term "mysticism" comes from the classical Greco-Roman mystery cults. Perhaps it came from myein meaning "to close the lips and eyes, and refers to the sacred oath of the initiates, the mystes, to keep secret about the inner workings of the religion." In Neo-platonism "mysticism" came to be associated with secrecy of any kind. The term mystica appeared in the Christian treatise, Mystica Theologia, of an anonymous Syrian Neoplatonist monk of the late fifth or early sixth century, who was known pseudonymously as Dionysius the Areopagite. In this work mysticism was described as the secrecy of the mind. -- Source
"The sound of one hand clapping" can be a mystical experience because it transcends the nominal consciousness but is attainable by one who seeks. Mysticism exists within every religion, every culture and every group. Sometimes it is a positive, but sometimes it is not.
I am a devout and committed "Personalist," which is to say, I believe in the existence of the individual Self as being eternal and fundamentally unchanging. The teaching of acintya bheda abheda (tattva) wonderfully illuminates this understanding, that the individual is inconceivably (acintya) simultaneously one with (bheda) and different from (abheda) the form (tattva) of God and existence. In other words, as I explain in my Sikh studies:
Ek Onkar: God is One: The word "Ek" means numerically "One." The word "Oankar" however does not literally mean "God" as generally conceived. It is derived from the Sanskrit bija or root "Om" (Omkara), which of course is the fundamental Sound Vibration from which all else arises. In the same way, Gurbani sees Oankar, which is grammatically related, as the Primal Sound (ie the Omkara). It is therefore referred to as "Oankar Sabad Dhun." But wait, according to Hinduism the Omkara (as Pranava) is the "first breath of God" and hence is likened to and one with God. Therefore Omkara is used as another name for the One God even as Sikhs employ the Name Oankar! -- Source
Now, when this understanding is added to the wisdom of Hebrews 11 and the teachings of acintya bheda abheda tattva we find that the Nature of God is essentially Sound ("in the beginning... God (Elohym) SAID... and it was so."). This fundamental nature of Ek Devata (the One God however conceived) utterly transcends mortal consciousness however through faith in God individuals are empowered to act as God's "hands in the world."
Again, most religious people don't have much technical understanding of such matters. This borders on the domain of the mystics. Such knowledge is not required to serve God however nor is knowing everything (and no one knows everything anyway). What is required is to place faith in the God of ones understanding. Then God will respond with empowerment, knowledge, understanding etc. as serves His purposes.
Liberty is achieved by harmonious balance with God's Will.