FIRST READING GENESIS 22:1-18
1After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." 2He said, "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you." 3So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. 4On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. 5Then Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you." 6Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. 7Isaac said to his father Abraham, "Father!" And he said, "Here I am, my son." He said, "The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" 8Abraham said, "God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son." So the two of them walked on together.
9When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. 11But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." 12He said, "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me." 13And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14So Abraham called that place "The LORD will provide"; as it is said to this day, "On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided."
15The angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven, 16and said, "By myself I have sworn, says the LORD: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, 18and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice."
SECOND READING HEBREWS 11:23-31
23By faith Moses was hidden by his parents for three months after his birth, because they saw that the child was beautiful; and they were not afraid of the king's edict. 24By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called a son of Pharaoh's daughter, 25choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26He considered abuse suffered for the Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to the reward. 27By faith he left Egypt, unafraid of the king's anger; for he persevered as though he saw him who is invisible. 28By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.
29By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. 30By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. 31By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.
If you've read this far down without skipping any part of the two passages above, then congratulations! You have devotional stamina. If you didn't read the passages above but instead came straight down here just for this bit, then shame on you! You're cheating yourself.
And if you're not reading this at all, then ... I just wasted a few seconds of my life writing this ... and double shame on you!
'Shame' is such a strong word. We tend to think of shame as entirely bad, but that's not the case. Shame, within limits, can be good insofar as it reminds us of our wrongdoing. A person who lacks shame completely is a person of excessive pride. This person has no restraints and no accurate perception of oneself as being fallible and sinful. So, shame, in small doses, is healthy. Too much shame, however, is crippling and destructive.
Now a common human response to shame is trying to be better. We try harder. We try to be more moral. Or more holy. We try to build up virtue or moral strength. Without knowing it, we apply self-strength to improve who we are. The problem of course is that who we are or what we have within ourselves might not be enough. Or, if we do think we've achieved improvement through our own willful effort, we end up with shame's opposite: pride.
There's a better way.
That better way is faith.
The two passages above is about the "virtue of faith." The word 'virtue' does not occur explicitly in either of the two passages. But the idea is there. "Virtue" is a positive trait. Abraham had it; Moses had it. The "heroes of faith" in Hebrews, Chapter Eleven, all had it. Faith, in the eyes of God, is beautiful and praiseworthy. God sees faith as worthy and good, so much so that God counts faith as a form of righteousness.
Why is faith such a good-making trait? Because faith is dependent. Faith acknowledges the Lord. Whereas self-strength of human morality says "I can do it by myself," faith says "I need God."
And it is faith that sees true reality. That indeed we are creatures dependent upon God. We did not create ourselves nor can we save ourselves. A person without faith, therefore, is not in touch with true reality. He or she lives in a false world, a world of illusions of human power and autonomy.
Lastly, it is faith in God that is the opposite of what ails us, sin.
And this is one of the most crucial definitions for the whole of Christianity; that the opposite of sin is not virtue but faith.
― Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death.
May the Lord grant us robust faith in Him who loves us and who is absolutely and meticulously for us. In Jesus' name, amen.