There’s a fine line between faith and stupidity, and sometimes that line can seem pretty blurry.
I still remember–vividly–driving up Interstate 90 to the Boston area in the fall of 2008. We had visited Boston in the spring of 2008. That fall we were moving there.
We had no jobs and no place to live. Sarah and I just both knew we were going to grad school–she for pre-med classes and I for seminary. We were pretty sure it was faith, but also worried it was part stupidity, that led us to leave a comfortable and settled situation in Northern Virginia. So with our 10-month old in tow and most of our belongings off in storage somewhere, we took the plunge and followed what we sensed to be God’s leading to a new land.
I took some comfort in those days that our biblical namesakes–Abram or Abraham and Sarah–had made a similar move.
But it also wasn’t an uncommon fear in those days that we might just end up looking stupid… to our friends, our families, to ourselves. Even after some protesting with God, we came to Boston–lack of employment and housing notwithstanding.
Heb 11:1-3 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.
There’s a real “go for it” quality to faith. When we make a decision to act on faith, it so often feels like “all or nothing.”
And one thing that is so hard about faith is that we often find ourselves having to make decisions without having all the information we think we need. Faith is “being sure of what we hope for” and “certain of what we do not see.” Certain, in other words, of that which we cannot verify with our own eyes.
Hear, Obey, Go
Heb 11:8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.
I’d wager that many of us have said yes to a call, not sure of where that was taking us.
Just looking at the verbs in that verse, it says, “By faith, when he was called, Abraham obeyed and went.” The way Hebrews tells it, Abraham would obey and go anywhere God called him. Daniel Estes says that God was “requiring [Abraham] to obey, knowing the full price involved, but with only a hint as to the compensation. The divine demand was that [Abraham] should forsake the familiar for the foreign.”
Heb 11:9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.
He lived in “the promised land” but it was by sojourning in tents and living as a foreigner. Tents! Temporary dwelling places. Abraham and Sarah–because of their faith–had a real immigrant experience.
Sang Hyun Lee, a professor at Princeton Seminary, has often noted how relevant the Abrahamic pilgrimage motif is for Korean and Korean American immigrants. Abraham’s willingness to sojourn in the difficult, unsettled, unknown, in-between places was part and parcel of his obedience to God.
Heb 11:10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
Abraham had a heavenly focus. A city with foundations is what he could see. Foundations… that word implies security, settledness. Tents don’t have foundations like houses do, others have observed about this verse.
Heb 11:11 By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise.
The source of Abraham’s faith was God’s faithfulness. God is faithful, so Abraham could have faith.
Is God My Help… Or Isn’t He?
We see in the Genesis reading, though, that Abraham is a lot more like us than we might think, if we just read Hebrews.
Gen 15:1-3 After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision:
“Do not be afraid, Abram.
I am your shield,
your very great reward.”
But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”
He argues with God a little bit. It’s ironic, too–“Eliezer” means something like “My God is help,” or, “My God is my help.” Even as he utters this name–“My God is my help”–Abram is not… quite… sure that God can really help him.
But God is promising to be Abram’s shield, his protection, his security. When Abram protests, God takes him outside and says:
“Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
“If indeed you can count them”–of course Abraham can’t count the stars! That’s ridiculous! How could he possibly know how many stars are in the sky?
But if that’s true, how could he possibly know the limits of the wonderful future God has in store for him?
You think you’re so confident, God is saying, that I can’t give you a descendant? I gave you this night sky with stars (and more) that you can’t even count. Nothing is too difficult for me.
And now back to Hebrews 11, verse 12:
And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.
70 Sextillion Children
I read a silly article this week, called, “Which is Greater, the Number of Sand Grains on Earth or Stars in the Sky?”
The article concluded, surprisingly, that you can’t know and that you have to guesstimate. Which is what a group of scientists at the University of Hawaii tried to do, using the average size of a grain of sand and the number of beaches and deserts in the world.
The researchers mentioned in the article had a Hubble telescope and a calculator at hand, and figured that everything we’ve recorded in the night sky (they included “galaxies, faint stars, red dwarfs,” etc.) gives us a star population of 70,000 million, million, million, or 7 followed by 22 zeroes.
I don’t know what sort of exact numbers God had in mind when he told Abram to look at the sky and see the number of his descendants. It’s difficult for me to imagine the earth sustaining human life long enough to get to that number, but who knows?
But these descendants, these children of a promise, are as numerous as 7 followed by 22 zeroes, and yet they come from a man and a woman who were “as good as dead,” in childbearing terms. If they had a number assigned to their fertility potential, it would be 0. You don’t get from 0 to 70 sextillion very easily.
What do you think Abraham and Sarah experienced at dinner parties? When they started to tell friends and family members–God told us we’re going to have a bazillion descendants! No fine line between faith and stupidity there, their friends probably thought–that’s just stupid.
Or what about Noah? We just studied his life together with some really awesome children at Vacation Bible School a couple weeks ago. One song we sang says, “Noah was willing to build a great, big boat / Before there was the rain to make it float.”
What did his neighbors think? Well, if he was building his ark anywhere near their property lines, they were probably in regular touch with the Mesopotamia Zoning Board of Appeals.
The Bible gives the dimensions of the ark. It was 450 feet long (that’s one and a half football fields), 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high. That’s quadruple the size of the biggest boats known in Noah’s day.
He would have been ridiculed for building a boat a tenth of that size, let alone one that would have barely fit inside Gillette Stadium:
But, the Scripture says, “Noah did everything just as God commanded him.”
So, too, Abraham and Sarah. Our first lesson concludes:
Gen 15:6 Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
Righteousness, or right standing with God. All was well in his relationship with God because Abraham believed him.
Noah and Abraham trusted God. So have countless other men and women who have gone on before us in the faith–we can think of the families who came to the Massachusetts Bay Colony nearly 400 years ago, looking to found a “city upon a hill.” We can think of those men and women who had a vision to turn a summer chapel in our town into a full-fledged, year-round church.
Some admired them as full of faith. Others might have thought they were being stupid. But they were all proved right for trusting God.
And we can think of each other. We can be encouraged by the stories we hear, each week when we share and pray and worship, about following God into uncertain territory.
To have faith in God is to put your confidence in God. It means that we believe that God’s promises will come to pass. It means that we follow God’s call, even when God’s call doesn’t seem to be detailed enough for our liking…or comfort. Faith in God is wholehearted trust and surrender. It is accepting the call of the one who can count all the stars that we can only begin to see.
And those who have faith in God are time and time again upheld, because God is who he says he is, and God will do what God says he will do. God… is… faithful.
Faith Because God is Faithful
Having lived in Greater Boston for five years now, I can say with great confidence that God has been faithful to my family. We didn’t know a whole lot about where we were going when we left Northern Virginia, but he did.
Maybe you can think of a time when you trusted God by faith–maybe a little scared, perhaps even a little ridiculed by those around you, or by your own internal voices–and then you saw God’s goodness and provision, as you followed him into the future.
And look at these physical reminders we have in nature of God’s faithfulness. Every time we see a rainbow, we can recall that God was faithful to Noah. He really did spare a remnant of the world, just as he said he would. And whenever we look up at the stars in the night sky, or go to the beach and look down at the sand, we can remember how faithful God was to Abraham, giving him not just one child–which was miracle enough–but many, many, descendants, the chief of whom was Jesus Christ.
Faith may look stupid to others sometimes. Walking out in faith may feel stupid to us sometimes.
But we can have faith in God because God is faithful. He is our shield, and our sure reward.
The above is adapted from the sermon I preached this past Sunday. See my other sermons, if you desire, here.