A few years ago, my family went on a vacation to Northern Virginia and stayed in a cabin on the Shenandoah. One evening after a long day exploring the area we were on our way back to the cabin when we ran into traffic trying to cross a bridge, and the GPS told us we would be delayed for at least an hour. We searched for another way home and found an alternate route that looked clear. So off we went on increasingly rural roads, until finally the GPS told us to take a sharp right. I did, and then slammed on the brakes. The road dead ended at the site of an historic ferry, one that was last used to cross the river in Revolutionary War times.
The GPS – Global Positioning System – is a great tool and a marvel of technology, but it isn’t foolproof. It depends on good data and can get confused when conditions are not right, for instance when signals bounce off mountains or tall buildings.
You might say that today’s readings all rely on another type of GPS, God’s Positioning System. It unfailingly directs us to our destination or blessings with absolute accuracy. It has no interference, because it is not directed by a satellite in space but by God who sees all, and is never wrong since the data is from God the creator. How can one lose their way with faith founded on such a GPS?
It was through faith in God that Abraham went out not knowing where his road would lead (Hebrews 11:8). Abraham had not seen the land God asked him to travel to, but faith made him convinced of its existence and led him to his destination. In the same way, though we have not seen heaven, faith makes us convinced that it exists. The Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that faith is “the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). Like Abraham, therefore we walk by faith, not by sight.
God promised Abraham that he and Sarah would be the origins of many nations though they were childless. Even after the birth of their son Isaac Abraham was so sure of becoming the father of many nations that he was prepared to sacrifice Isaac through whom the promise of God was to be fulfilled, the assurance of things hoped for. The real GPS, our faith in God, cannot fail us.
My brothers and sisters, in today’s first reading from the book of Wisdom we have another example of faith as the assurance of things hoped for: on that night of the Passover, it was faith in God that determined the action of the Israelites. Hoping for the Lord’s deliverance, the faith of the Israelites directed them to sacrifice lambs and use the blood to mark their door posts. Because of faith in God they were spared, while the Egyptians experienced the awful fate of the deaths of the first-born.
Many of us do not know or understand the technology behind the man-made GPS but listen to and trust that the guidance it gives will take us to our destination. In the same way Abraham and the Israelites of old had no knowledge of Jesus nor of the Holy Spirit but their faith led them unerringly on their intended path.
Faith is a gift, a grace, that we received at our baptism. It is up to us to develop and nurture our faith through constant prayer and study. Just because we received the gift of faith freely does not mean that we can take it for granted, or keep it in a box, be looked at or cherished only occasionally. Taking our faith for granted may even lead to the loss of faith. When this happens, it will be even more impossible to love God.
The opposite of faith is fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of being lost, fear of being abandoned. That is what makes Abraham’s story so poignant. He was heading into the unknown but had faith instead of fear. Fear means just one thing: trusting not in God but in someone else or something else, something less than divine. The fearful person may think God as just a remote idea and not real. Who then will save or protect them? Those with faith know that God is real, that God loves us and has the power to help, guide and rescue us, so we have absolutely nothing to fear. We may be troubled; we may suffer grief and loss. But we will never be overwhelmed. Faith allows us to see beyond the world to the promise of heaven; faith that is not merely an idea but is the living Lord, for whose appearance all the world waits. Ultimately our faith is based on the faithfulness of God, who never fails to keep his promises.
Like Abraham and the Israelites of old, the blessings that God has in store for us shall be received if we keep faith in God. Faith does not merely assure us or convince us, but it also inspires us to take actions in the direction which God’s grace enables us to follow, to head out into the unknown as did Abraham. This week, be attentive to God’s GPS leading you on your way. Unlike our manmade GPS it will never lead you into a dead end.
There are many roads in life leading to different destinations. Every time we act in faith, we come a step closer to our intended destination in the eternal happy presence of God in heaven.