Stepping forward, with eyes of faith
“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”
Those words from Corrie ten Boom speak to one of our chief sources of fear in this life, fear that clouds our vision of God: fear of an unknown future. Our future, at least to us, is uncertain. We do not know what lies ahead, and we spend a lot of time worrying about the rocks that might be in our path, and where that path will lead us. And that uncertainty, if we let it overwhelm us, can keep our feet from moving in the right direction.
When Jewish neighbors began showing up on the doorstep of the ten Boom household in Nazi-occupied Netherlands, a tremendous amount of uncertainty came with them.
How would the ten Booms care for them? Feed them? Hide them? Would they be caught?
Uncertainty, and fear of it, could have closed the ten Booms’ door to them. But, they stepped out in faith, unknowing how it would end, and hid neighbor after neighbor in their home.
When they were reported to the Nazis and captured, they faced a decidedly uncertain future. Would they be executed? Tortured? Worked to death? Would they ever see each other again? Faced with this bleak future — a horrifying end, it must have seemed, in response to their incredible Christian charity — it would have been easy for them to surrender their faith.
But, in the darkest of times, in one of the darkest places, Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsie brought light. Imprisoned together at the Ravensbrück concentration camp in Germany, the sisters offered worship services, prayer, hope and love to their fellow prisoners.
Corrie survived the ordeal and went on to inspire millions with her writing and Christian witness. But, Betsie’s body gave out under the harsh conditions of the camp. In December, 1944, at age 59, Betsie died in the camp.
Nearing death, in a pit of evil and darkness, it would have been easy for Betsie to despair, to lash out at her fate, to lose faith. But, for Betsie, there was no longer any uncertainty before her.
Facing death, she told Corrie, “There is no pit so deep that He [God] is not deeper still.”
Corrie and Betsie ten Boom were able to step courageously into situations where so many would falter because, for them, uncertainty held no grip on them. For them, an unknown future could never overshadow their trust in a known God. And when uncertainty brought pain and suffering, as the world around them sank into an ever-deepening pit of darkness, they found God was there with them, going deeper still.
The key to all of this, of course, is that for Corrie and Betsie ten Boom, the God they could not see was more real and more present than the fears of what they could see in the world around them. And because of that, fear was powerless to hold them back from stepping into the unknown.
In our reading today from Genesis, we see Abram — who would become Abraham — also step into the unknown: “The Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.’”
To paraphrase: “Leave your family. Leave your home. Leave your inheritance. Leave the small radius that has been your entire world. Leave all that you know, all that means security, happiness and prosperity to you. And go. You don’t know where you’re going. I’ll show you later. Just go.”
And then, there are these all-important words: “So Abram went.”
He stepped into the unknown, leaving behind everything he could see, everything he had ever seen, to go to a place he’d never seen, trusting in a God he could not see.
And, all the while, he carried the faith reflected today in Psalm 121: “The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; it is he who shall keep you safe. The Lord shall watch over your going out and your coming in, from this time forth for evermore.”
As Paul points out in today’s reading from Romans, Abram-turned-Abraham was able to do this because he rested not on the strength of the flesh, but on the strength of faith. “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”
How can we hope to have the faith of Abram? Of Corrie ten Boom? Of Betsie ten Boom? I have struggled and fought against this a lot in my life — being able to step out onto the path of Christ, when I can’t see the path in front of me.
When we’re held back in this way, perhaps it’s because we’re looking with the wrong eyes.
With the eyes of this world, with the eyes of the flesh, we’ll never be able to see what’s before us. All is darkness, uncertainty and fear.
But, Christ gives us a different kind of vision.
In our Gospel reading today from John, Jesus tells us: “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”
But, when we truly open ourselves to the promise of our baptism, the scales are washed away from our eyes. We can see in faith, and see that which is invisible to flesh.
We can see God’s love — a love that transcends all uncertainty and worldly suffering. We begin to see in the spirit, because we are reborn in the Holy Spirit, and “What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
Of course, we still have fear. We have doubt. The darkness of our worldly vision begs to hold us back.
But, God stepped into that fear, darkness and uncertainty to take our hand, and lead us forward. In Jesus, God became flesh, to show us The Way: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
God became what we can see — became flesh — to lead us to what we cannot see. Christ became flesh to be our living bridge to the Holy Spirit.
The cross is the intersection of the physical that we can see — the body of Christ crucified — and that which we cannot see — the promise of His resurrection, His conquering of death and raising up of all of us with him.
Of course, there is no promise our path forward will be easy. On the contrary, when we step out with Christ, we’re promised it will be hard. The way of the cross, after all, ends at Golgotha.
But, if we, like Corrie and Betsie ten Boom, see with the eyes of true faith, then the power of the known God will always outshine the fears of an unknown future.
Holy Spirit, light our path. Help us to see in the Spirit, that which we cannot see in the dark shackles of the flesh. Help us to see faith, light and love, in a world of uncertainty, darkness and hate. Help us bring the light of your presence into this world, and to hold fast in faith when everything about the world begs us to cut and run. We pray all this in the name of the known God. Amen.