One of my favorite Bette Davis quotes is, "Old age isn't for sissies!" The late actress believed young people simply aren't strong and courageous enough to face down the problems and ailments older people encounter every day.

Sunday's three authors address a similar situation in a similar way. But the problems they face were brought on not by old age alone, but also by the many years their readers were expected to live their faith.

Habakkuk begins his book of prophecies with a complaint to Yahweh (Heb 1: 2-3; 2: 2-4). Several generations of Jews had patiently waited, hoping their bitter enemies, the Assyrians, would eventually meet their demise. But when their destruction finally takes place, the Assyrians are unexpectedly replaced by another enemy: the Chaldeans (later known as the Babylonians).

How long?

No wonder the prophet begins with the question, "How long, O Yahweh? I cry for help, but you do not listen! I cry out to you, 'Violence!' but you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery?" How long is one expected to live one's life in faith without seeing any concrete results?

Both Luke and the author of II Timothy find themselves in parallel situations. Unlike Habak-kuk, their difficulties aren't cased by an invading enemy, but by a longed-for event that didn't take place: Jesus' second coming.

By the last quarter of the first century, Christians were becoming convinced that what had started out as a short-term project was now going to last a lifetime. Jesus' Parousia didn't come nearly as fast as they had anticipated.

No matter the problem, the authors always falls back on faith, the only force powerful enough to overcome the frustration that comes from living one's convictions over a long period of time. But each emphasizes a different dimension of faith.

Yahweh commands Habak-kuk, "Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets, so that one can read it readily. For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment and will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not be late." The prophet is convinced that a person of faith must never surrender the vision which is at the core of that faith.

The Timothy author focuses on another aspect of faith (II Tim 1: 6-8, 13-14). "God did not give us a spirit of cowardice," he writes, "but rather of power and love and self-control....Bear our share of hardship for the Gospel with the strength that comes from God."

Just as Habakkuk stressed vision, this first-century Chris-tian writer emphasizes strength. Faith empowers us to do things that would be impossible to do without it.

Deep faith

Luke, on the other hand, concentrates on the depth faith provides in our lives (Lk 17: 5-10). According to Jesus, faith isn't something we need more of. The Spirit has already given us all we can possibly use. It's up to us to let our faith seep as deeply into our lives as we dare.

With typical Semitic exaggeration, Jesus tells His followers, 'If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to the sycamore, 'Be uprooted and transplanted into the sea,' and it would obey you."

Luke ends with Jesus proclaiming the key concept: "When you have done all you have been commanded to do, say, 'We are useless servants. We have done no more than our duty.'" In other words, every time faith carries us to a new level, we notice an even newer level, a level we never would have noticed had we chosen to remain in a shallow, faithless state.

Only faith provides us with the vision, strength and depth to deal with the problems that come from following God. God certainly doesn't choose sissies to become disciples.

(9/30/04)