11- The Faith Beyond Religion

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By this point in our study of Hebrews you should be aware of your religious framework. As I’ve shown for the past ten weeks, the author has been deconstructing the religious mind in order to free it back into it a life of faith. I’ve posited from the beginning that this book is not offering a narrow reframing of ancient Judaism into a modern Evangelical Christianity as it is mostly taught. Rather, I’ve endeavored to show how all people, regardless of their religion (or avoidance of religion) have defaulted into the rigid trap of the religious mind, and this book offers modern people the only way to live whereby we can be free from institutional powers and their propaganda which control how we live.

The simple test for each of us is to self-reflect and ask to what religious framework our allegiance is beholden? The audience in our study would of course be ancient Judaism, but modern people are less likely to affiliate with a mainline religion or denomination. If you do, it’s likely because it is the framework in which you grew up. The modern atheist or agnostic has not avoided these frameworks, but has merely replaced them with an institutional power equally exacting upon their affections, be it science, politics, education, the arts, business, or family.

If you are reading or listening to this, and you feel as though your framework is just fine, or has been the most trustworthy, and thus better or preferred to other, lesser religious frameworks, then I’m sorry to inform you, that you are in the same boat as the audience of this book. If we are to hear the message contained in this amazing book, we all must be willing to deconstruct our system in the same way this audience is asked to do.

The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is known as “The Faith Chapter” in the New Testament. It is the author’s attempt to use the framework of his audience (of which he belongs) to tease out a new way of reframing what is there. This is a vital path for each of us in our journey to liberation. Freedom is not the abandonment of our religions, but the transfer of our faith from the religious container back to it’s “Contents.” Salvation, as the author puts it, is our ability to see beyond everything. Like his audience, we are also reluctant to “buy in” to what seem overly simple and far too easy. To overcome this, the author uses this chapter to show how faith preceded religion, and thus liberation is not merely a return to our original faith, but a regaining of the coordinates which take us where religion cannot.

We are all on a journey from a Garden, by way of a curse or struggle, unto a City.

The author begins at the beginning of human history as far as his audience is concerned. Cain and Abel were the children of Adam and Eve. The story tells us Cain killed Abel because God accepted his brother’s gift but rejected his. Even before any religion could have existed, the author is teasing out the difference between a pure heart of belief versus a the heart that performs the perfunctory pagan ritual of making an offering. It’s not that God is a vegetarian, but that there is something which exists within the heart of each of us, that when conscious of it, we change everything we do.

The goal is to find and never lose sight of that part.

Over the next thirty-eight verses, the author systematically retells the stories which comprise the Jewish tradition by illuminating all the characters who were under the influence of this “other thing” called faith. Across the span of time, these characters could not and were not Christians as is so often assumed by evangelical readers, nor were many of these even considered Jews, for those prior to the second half of Moses life pre-dated the Law. This is proof that the faith of which the author speaks, cannot be a faith IN any particular religion, it is pure and simple a faith in God our Maker. For our modern audience this is a faith, a deep down belief that there is absolutely something more to life, beyond or empirical world, which is forever trying to break through into our field of view. Once it does, we label it according to our most preferred framework for reality instead of seeing it as Ultimate Reality itself. Thus we become stuck again.

The author provides eighteen examples of faith and then says “time would fail me to tell of them all” (v.32). The thrust of this message is that not only is faith completely different for each and every person, but that this belief in something beyond us resides within all people of all times, in all generations, and in an infinite number of ways. The effect of this deep down belief brought about tremendous mid-course corrections in the lives of those who followed it. This faith was counter-intuitive. It went against convention and the norm. It’s the foreshadow of how this “city” is governed paradoxically. It causes unexpected circumstances to take place. The voice of faith within these individuals brought some of them out from dire circumstances, and it put other into dire circumstances. In each case, “they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (v. 16) and “these all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” (v.13)

In short, faith makes us distinct. the word the author uses is “teleiów” which is translated “perfect” but means “authentic, real, or genuine.” Faith makes us weird perhaps, it makes us odd in that we are not conforming to the frameworks of the world, but liberated from them unto being our true selves (psuché-soul) in God.

The last vital point here is that this faith in “something more” or “God” or “Ultimate Reality” by any other name and by any other definition is by virtue of this author’s message, a faith in Christ. Faith in Christ is NOT faith in the modern evangelical Christian religion as I’ve said from day one. This is a cosmic faith, and the author points out that this cosmic Christ was present long before Jesus and was doing the “anointed work” of calling, leading, inviting, people deeper into this trust and love for God. A vital nuance here is that our Christology must be larger than Jesus, but Jesus life perfectly reflects the work of Christ, the promised messiah or anointed one of the Jewish religion. The author does this by saying Moses “considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.”(v.26). We must pause and think about this and let it sink into our minds that while Jesus may have been the Christ (which I believe is true), the presence Christ certainly preceded Jesus.

This is why modern Christianity can place Jesus into the Old Testament, they make Christ and Jesus coextensive, which by faith I a have come to believe they are. But that is not where we nor the audience begins. If Jesus makes you uncomfortable, it’s likely due to evangelicalisms toxic misrepresentation of him. Can I encourage you to reconsider this just as the author does his audience? The person of Jesus is a vital link in understanding the role and power of the Christ throughout history. The author makes it clear that it is the person of Jesus, as Christ, which allows us to identify with and find our access to God or ultimate reality. “Jesus remains a “High Priest” forever…”

This isn’t a unique teaching in scripture. Paul himself understood this when he said the Israelites drank from the rock in the desert. “For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” (1 Corinthians 10:4). You see, we all require some deconstruction of our religious frame if we are to hear the Good News or the Gospel. In the case of all non Christian people, this means the inclusion of a Christology into the framework of faith. In the case of the modern Evangelicals, this means a radical makeover to one’s christology, which allows it to be seen in the cosmic sense and not exclusively through through the thirty-three years of Jesus life.

Jesus himself reflects this point when he makes his famous “exclusivity claim” in John 14:6). “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Here, Jesus is saying that he IS the physical, human embodiment of the Christ, which does the anointed work of pointing people to God our Maker or Father. He is not saying, only those who subscribe to the Christian religion get to go to Heaven, He is saying that if anyone, of any time, in any religion, has any experience with God whatsoever, it is exclusively the work of Christ that makes that possible. He is making a point to the doubting Thomas (the skeptic) that our Maker, God the Father can be visible and thus known in every work of Christ, and also in the life and work of Jesus himself. The work of Christ is not limited to the life of Jesus, but transcends time and has always been with God from the beginning. Christ is a role, Jesus is the person or persona, embodying the role. This moves faith from the objective (Christ) to the subjective (Jesus).

The energy powering every atom of the universe has a name. Remember chapter 1? “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.”

Yes these are hard frameworks to undo and to retool. However, if we are ever to be free, we must replace our faith in our faith, with faith in Christ however, whenever, or whatever form that takes in our lives. The religious mind has to relax and allow for the diversity of such expression. As soon as we are able to give that nebulous force or energy a name, that of Christ, then that is the moment we step out of a religion with an object at the center, to a faith with a subject at it’s center. If we can bring ourselves to not only find that voice, but to trust it, to make mid-course corrections to our life based upon it, then and only then will we begin to see the promised new world. That is when we begin to live from a kingdom and transform all that we see into what it can optimally be.

Now we can see, through the chapter of faith, that the church was never intended to be an alternative religion, but a community or “assembly” of those who share, not common experiences, but a common trajectory of freeing the world from it’s dependence upon institutional power or religion.

Next week the author spells out how each of us can transform our belief or faith into a lifestyle of freedom.