Whether we merely dip into its surface or stretch out our arms attempting to reach its depths, language is a deep well. With words, there is often more than meets the eye. And there is something about the study of words that reminds us that if we dig deep enough, hidden treasures can be found.
By way of introduction to the word "faith," the book of Hebrews speaks of men and women, people of history exhibiting faith themselves, following hard after God in trust and obedience. These names are not listed to makes us feel diminutive by comparison, but are presented as something of a definition, a definition which establishes that faith continues to be about seeking one who has been found. Abraham and Moses, Enoch and Noah and Rahab, all are commended for walking in faith and hoping in what was yet unseen. We are given the image of men and women who have been moved by God as they moved toward God, some in ways more conspicuous than others, seeking in light and shadow the one who is pleased by faith.
This is encouraging, even while imagining the magnificent faith of Moses and the sustaining hope of Abraham. For what seems to set them apart in the eyes of God is a God who is faithful though they were not; one who is a firm foundation though they were often indecisive in their certainty. It is the same today. We seek a God who does not grow weary of pursuing us though we often grow weary of pursuing God.
The writer imparts a definition of faith fairly countercultural to modern assumptions of what faith is. Faith in God is more than believing God exists; faith is not mere abstraction, a lifeless notion of preference or insufficient fact. Faith is seeking the God who finds us, which is the detail of utmost importance. The Greek word that is usually translated "seek" in this passage is actually a compound word meaning to "seek out." The word "seek" (zeteo) here is written ekzeteo. Though most English translations denote the two different words identically, the later is deliberately more intense. The added word re-emphasizes the first so that it is understood with all the force and certainty the author intended. It is not merely "seeking;" it is seeking actively something that will be found. It is the difference between seeking something like happiness or world peace and the seeking of a child who counts to twenty and runs off to find her hiding mother. The child actively seeks even as the parent makes sure she'll be found.
The careful words of the writer of Hebrews remind us not only that we are able to seek one who can and wants to be found but that we are able to seek one who has found us. We seek the one who came among us, willing that none would be lost. That God is pleased by those who seek the Father's arms exemplifies his longing to gather his children together, the care with which God seeks each one. Jesus likened it to a hen longing to gather her chicks, a shepherd seeking every last sheep in his flock.
God's desire to seek you is not abstract, and faith's seeking of God is no abstraction. Consider the depths of these words: "Thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out.'"(1) Our seeking after the one who can be found might be similarly earnest, believing not only that God exists but that Father, Son, and Spirit have been near all along.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Ezekiel 34:11.