Today we will be looking at the topic of trust or faith, and how biblical faith is never expected to be a blind faith. Believers have chosen a worldview that is consistent with God’s revelation of himself in his word, and he has demonstrated that he is worthy of our trust.
The life of a believer is just that: a life of faith. But to understand more about faith, we may need to lay down some definitions. Now a quick internet search on the definition of faith yields the following results:
complete trust or confidence in someone or something.
strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion
a strongly held belief or theory
From Wikipedia, their definition of faith begins with the following:
Faith, derived from Latin fides and Old French feid, is confidence or trust in a person, thing, or concept. In the context of religion, one can define faith as “belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion”. Religious people often think of faith as confidence based on a perceived degree of warrant, while others who are more skeptical of religion tend to think of faith as simply belief without evidence.
That is the contrast that I want to highlight: faith based on evidence (what Wikipedia calls “a perceived degree of warrant), and blind faith, or faith with no evidence at all.
To believe in God is to be confident that God exists. While many people may say that is all there is to faith, in truth, most people have confidence in God because of some other reassurance they have received that he indeed exists, whether this reassurance was public or private. Perhaps it was a “miraculous” healing or rescue from a harmful situation (like a car accident), or a near-death experience with a spiritual vision of some kind. Perhaps it was some inspired preaching other type of learning experience.
For myself, I can say that I have faith in God because I believe that God has revealed himself in history through the Bible and the historical example of Israel. For me, this historical reassurance provides a foundation upon which a living faith can emerge. This living faith is a demonstration of knowledge and practices that are rooted in principles of the Bible. This is not just an expression of personal beliefs with no basis, but an expression of a specific worldview that springs from a repository of knowledge and spiritual understanding handed down through the ages.
All people operate within a specific worldview; that’s just how we are wired. The specifics of that worldview are shaped by how one interprets knowledge and understanding that one has been exposed to. For believers, these various interpretations of biblical knowledge and understanding are why we have different religious traditions all saying they are based on the Bible. Each of the various traditions emphasizes different aspects of that body of information. Some traditions focus on liturgy; others focus on social justice, while yet others focus on separation from society. Those of us who claim to believe in God have all made and are making choices about the expression of our faith that are influenced by culture, tradition, and familial upbringing.
While all of this may just sound like just a big hot mess of philosophical opinion, allow me to demonstrate from the Bible how a biblical faith is not a blind faith, but a worldview that is based on evidential experience and knowledge. To do so, we need to look no further than the examples of Gideon and Abraham. Let’s start by looking at Gideon, who is recognized as one of the great examples of faith who is memorialized for us in the eleventh chapter of the book of Hebrews.
Hebrews 11:6, 32-34 – “Now without faith it is impossible to please God, since the one who draws near to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. … And what more can I say? Time is too short for me to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the raging of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, gained strength in weakness, became mighty in battle, and put foreign armies to flight.”
Now, if we review some of the accomplishments of Gideon, we may find there is more to them than simply trusting without question what God was asking of him. Gideon’s trust that God would do what he said was based on evidential reassurances that God had provided him. This was demonstrated all along in his journey to becoming a savior of Israel from the oppression of the Midianites.
Judges 6:11-12 – The angel of Yahweh came, and he sat under the oak that was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash, the Abiezrite. His son Gideon was threshing wheat in the winepress in order to hide it from the Midianites. Then the angel of Yahweh appeared to him and said: “Yahweh is with you, valiant warrior.”
When Gideon was first called by God through an angel, Gideon asked for a sign to confirm this was truly God’s plan.
Judges 6:17, 20-23 – Then he [Gideon] said to him, “If I have found favor with you, give me a sign that you are speaking with me. … The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat with the unleavened bread, put it on this stone, and pour the broth on it.” So he did that. The angel of Yahweh extended the tip of the staff that was in his hand and touched the meat and the unleavened bread. Fire came up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened bread. Then the angel of Yahweh vanished from his sight. When Gideon realized that he was the angel of Yahweh, he said, “Oh no, Lord Yahweh! I have seen the angel of Yahweh face to face! ” But Yahweh said to him, “Peace to you. Don’t be afraid, for you will not die.”
So Gideon’s first evidential sign was demonstrated by a dramatic acceptance of his sacrificial offering. Immediately after this, God instructed him to tear down his father’s idolatrous altar.
Judges 6:25 – “On that very night Yahweh said to him, “Take your father’s young bull and a second bull seven years old. Then tear down the altar of Baal that belongs to your father and cut down the Asherah pole beside it.”
Gideon acted in faith, but it was faith based on the evidential sign he had previously received.
Soon after, when he was instructed by God to attack the Midianite armies, Gideon asked God for a sign by placing a fleece of wool on the ground overnight. If the fleece demonstrated wetness or dryness opposite to the normal dew patterns, he would know that it was really God who was asking this of him.
Judges 6:36-40 – “Then Gideon said to God, “If you will deliver Israel by my hand, as you said, “I will put a wool fleece here on the threshing floor. If dew is only on the fleece, and all the ground is dry, I will know that you will deliver Israel by my strength, as you said.” And that is what happened. When he got up early in the morning, he squeezed the fleece and wrung dew out of it, filling a bowl with water. Gideon then said to God, “Don’t be angry with me; let me speak one more time. Please allow me to make one more test with the fleece. Let it remain dry, and the dew be all over the ground.” That night God did as Gideon requested: only the fleece was dry, and dew was all over the ground.”
Once this evidential sign was confirmed, Gideon rallied his troops for battle.
Judges 7:1-2 – “Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and all the troops who were with him, got up early and camped beside the spring of Harod. The camp of Midian was north of them, below the hill of Moreh, in the valley. Yahweh said to Gideon, “You have too many troops for me to hand the Midianites over to them, or else Israel might elevate themselves over me and say, ‘My own strength saved me.'”
As a final act of trust, God asked him to reduce his forces to just 300 men. When he did so, he was still fearful that they would potentially be overwhelmed by the Midianite forces.
Judges 7:9-11 – That night Yahweh said to him, “Get up and attack the camp, for I have handed it over to you. “But if you are afraid to attack the camp, go down with Purah your servant. “Listen to what they say, and then you will be encouraged to attack the camp.” So he went down with Purah his servant to the outpost of the troops who were in the camp.”
God still provided him reassurance as he and his servant spied on the enemy camp and overheard their fear based on a dream that Gideon was going to overtake their army.
Judges 7:13-15 – “When Gideon arrived, there was a man telling his friend about a dream. He said, “Listen, I had a dream: a loaf of barley bread came tumbling into the Midianite camp, struck a tent, and it fell. The loaf turned the tent upside down so that it collapsed.” His friend answered: “This is nothing less than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God has handed the entire Midianite camp over to him.” When Gideon heard the account of the dream and its interpretation, he bowed in worship. He returned to Israel’s camp and said, “Get up, for Yahweh has handed the Midianite camp over to you.”
Of course, the famous story is that Gideon and his 300 troops were able to put an “innumerable” host of Midianite aggressors to flight along with their allies.
Judges 7:20-22 – “The three companies blew their trumpets and shattered their pitchers. They held their torches in their left hands, their trumpets in their right hands, and shouted, “A sword for Yahweh and for Gideon! ” Each Israelite took his position around the camp, and the entire Midianite army began to run, and they cried out as they fled. When Gideon’s men blew their three hundred trumpets, Yahweh caused the men in the whole army to turn on each other with their swords. They fled to Acacia House in the direction of Zererah as far as the border of Abel-meholah near Tabbath.”
All of these examples in the life of Gideon point to an interesting facet of trusting God: if we are sincere in wanting to accomplish God’s will, God can provide reassurances when he asks for our trustful actions. In these examples, these were not outward signs to all of Israel, but were private and personal reassurances that gave Gideon the confirmation that God was communicating with him, and that he would come through for Gideon if Gideon would act in faith by trusting in what he asked of him.
Now, at one point in my journey of faith, when I came across this concept, I determined that I would seek God’s direction in my life in a similar fashion as Gideon, asking for verification of what I thought I was hearing by seeking specific signs and indications ahead of time. If the indication occurred, then that would serve as the confirmation needed to take action. Sounds good, right?
Well, if you thought that didn’t sound right, you would be correct. What ended up happening is I began crafting a whole process for ascertaining what I thought would be God’s will in any big life decision I was facing. I kept a journal for things I was praying about, and if the indication came to pass or not. Based on the indication I would take the appropriate action “in faith.” However, I began to ask for indications or signs on anything, not just what God may have been trying to communicate to me, and this is where I believe the whole thing went off the rails. I began to use this journal as a “magic 8-ball” of sorts to determine important things.
For those of you not familiar with the magic 8-ball, just Google it. It was a party game where you would ask a question of the 8-ball, shake it up, and then a generic “answer” to your question would show up in a liquid-filled window on the 8-ball. The answer might go beyond just yes or no to something like “not at this time,” or “outlook not good.” Essentially, I was conducting my faith-life like a party game on whether or not a junior-high crush liked me or not.
Needless to say, I did not continue with this method of determining God’s will, even after making some hefty life decisions with it which, fortunately, I believe God still worked out in spite of my own ignorance. But I will say, one of the positive aspects of this concept is that my awareness of God’s communication with me was heightened throughout the day. I was literally looking for these indications to occur, just like Gideon might have been looking to see if the fleece was wet or not. The problem was that I was not asking for confirmation of something I thought God was trying to communicate to me; instead, I was basically telling God to provide me an answer to a question of my own choosing. That is a radically different thing all together, expecting God to be the genie to magically answer any question that I might pose to him. Gideon did not do this; Gideon was simply seeking confirmation of something God had already revealed to him that he wanted to be sure was legitimately God speaking to him. I hope you can see the difference between those two things, because for a very long time, I did not.
If I was to contemporize Gideon’s experience, it might go something like this: It starts with hearing something from God. Today, we have God’s word to inspire and encourage us to obedient actions. Perhaps it is an admonition from a sermon or bible study, or more typically, a spark of inspiration from personal meditation in God’s word. Then, we respond by reaching out to him in prayer to make sure we understand clearly what we think we heard. This can be done by verifying with other scripture passages to ensure we are being contextually faithful, or it can also be a recognition of some internal confirmation that still lines up with Scripture. If we are sincere and attentive, we will likely find God responding to us in a way that only we can know, a way that has his “fingerprints” all over it but may not be recognizable to others.
In our lives today, we may not have visions of angels or miraculous fleeces to provide us confirmation of God’s direction. However, if we are attentive and serious about understanding what we believe we have heard from God, we receive confirmations that are private and personal to us. Perhaps it may be a saying on a billboard which you pass on the freeway that resonates in answer to prayer, or a song that comes up in your playlist with encouraging lyrics that match what you believe God is conveying to you.
This is the relationship God wishes to have with us: an active, living relationship based on trust. And for trust to take place, there has to be back and forth communication between both parties to establish that trust on which our actions are based.
Even Abraham did not respond in blind faith to God when he famously accepted the understanding that God would make him the “father of many nations.” While it may have been presented to us that way when it says “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness,” the apostle Paul goes into greater detail on Abraham’s experience, and reveals a little closer look into the mechanics of Abraham’s faith.
Romans 4:3, 17-22 – “For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness.’ … As it is written: ‘I have made you the father of many nations.’ He is our father in God’s sight, in whom Abraham believed – the God who gives life to the dead and calls things into existence that do not exist. He [Abraham] believed, hoping against hope, so that he became the father of many nations according to what had been spoken: ‘So will your descendants be.’
“He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body to be already dead (since he was about a hundred years old) and also the deadness of Sarah’s womb. He did not waver in unbelief at God’s promise but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, because he was fully convinced that what God had promised, he was also able to do. Therefore, it was credited to him for righteousness.”
Abraham could only demonstrate faith in God because he already believed in God. The text says he did not weaken or waver in the faith he already had, simply because his reason was telling him he and Sarah were both way too old to have a child. He continued to maintain his existing faith in God and merely accepted that what God said would come to pass somehow.
Hebrews 11:6 – “Now without faith it is impossible to please God, since the one who draws near to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”
If we accept this as a principle of faith, then we can understand Abraham already had a faith in God in order to even be hearing from him about being the father of many nations. While we don’t have specifics in Scripture, we can see a glimmer of the establishment of that faith in Genesis chapter 11.
Genesis 11:31-32 – “Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot (Haran’s son), and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they set out together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there. Terah lived 205 years and died in Haran.”
Why was Terah heading out to the land of Canaan? The text doesn’t say, but immediately following this passage in the first verses of chapter 12 we read the following:
Genesis 12:1, 4-5 – Yahweh said to Abram: Go out from your land, your relatives, and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. … So Abram went, as Yahweh had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated, and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan…”
Is it possible that Abraham’s father Terah had already heard from God about taking his family to Canaan and simply got waylaid in Haran on their way? Perhaps he became ill on the journey and they had to settle there hoping for his recovery, but then died. Then Abraham, hearing and recognizing the call of the God he already believed in, picked up where his father had left off to continue the family’s journey to Canaan as originally intended. If so, this could indicate that Abraham already had a familial understanding of Yahweh as the one true God, and he could then obey in faith based on an understanding of how God had already protected their family from Ur to Haran (which was a huge journey in and of itself).
While this may be speculative based on the lack of detail in the text, it is not entirely unfounded based on the pattern of faith in the Bible. The writer of Hebrews says that to have faith in God, one must believe he exists. To think that a God exists means one must have heard of him somehow, and must believe that account of God is reasonable. For anyone to be able to call on Yahweh in the first place, Paul writes:
Romans 10:14 – How, then, can they call on him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about him? …
Somehow Abraham had come to know Yahweh, whether in Ur or Haran, or perhaps through his father Terah, or by straight-up self-revelation of God directly to Abraham. However it occurred, I believe it is very likely that Abraham had reason to recognize that God was trustworthy in order to place his faith in him and to become the father of a multitude of nations.
What this means is that when Abraham believed God that he would be the father of many nations, he did not need to look for evidence of this, even though he knew that both he and Sarah were typically too old to have children. Abraham knew God was trustworthy and simply believed without trying to figure out how it could be accomplished, and that type of faith was what God honored and considered righteous.
So, to summarize all of the distance we have covered today, I believe it can be shown that faith is something that is based on a multitude of factors that we have been exposed to in our lives. Whether by tradition or society, the individual interpretation of that information will lead to a specific worldview. Within the biblical worldview, we can receive personal guidance if we sincerely seek God’s direction, which may be known to us but unseen by others, and this direction will be in harmony with God’s revealed will in his word.
Gideon acted in faith even though he had received confirmations or indications from Yahweh before he took action. This does not necessarily mean his faith is any less worthy or valid, as is demonstrated by the fact that he is included in the “Hall of Faith” of Hebrews 11. However, it does indicate to us that even though God may ask his people to do unusual things at times, it is still a demonstration of courageous faith to recognize a personal indication that may be received and then to act on that direction from God. Obeying direction from God is still obedience.
It is my belief that the Bible knows nothing of a blind faith, only a trust and confidence in what may be unseen to others but known to be real to us.
Hebrews 11:1 – “Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the conviction of things not being seen.”
Biblical faith, then, is obedient action based on confident assurance and conviction. This confident assurance may simply be an individual recognition of specific direction that agrees with the revealed principles in the Bible.
Another way to say this is we can trust God today for what he has revealed to us yesterday. And we can trust God for tomorrow and beyond when we trust him for today. Acting on that unseen conviction is how we demonstrate our faith in God and fulfill his purposes in this world.
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