By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going.
Hebrews 11:8-9 (N.R.S.V.)
Faith is often regarded as a kind of knowing, and indeed it is. Through Christ we know not only what it means to be a human being, but we know something of the nature of God. However, Christian faith does not mean that we know everything. Christian faith does not tell us whether the stock market will go up or down in the next six months, although there are people literally who will read the Book of Revelation and say that Revelation enables them to call the market. Our faith is not a way of being assured of the health status of our loved ones in five years, although there are some people who would say that faith does give us this knowledge. Faith does not give us an exact and detailed knowledge of what is true doctrine, although there are some who say that faith does exactly that. Faith does not tell us everything there is to know about God, although there are people who say that it tells us a very great deal about God.
I want to focus this morning on what we do when we don't know. Here's a person going into an operation. This is a very serious operation, and the person has signed papers giving the doctor permission to do various actions depending on what is found once the operation has begun. As the person is wheeled into the operating room, he may not know where he is going. Faith cannot give him absolute certainty about how the operation will turn out. Faith has to do with how you cope when you don't know where you're going.
Let's look at Abraham. Abraham was one who was called of God to go
to a land that he did not know.
By Faith Abraham obeyed when he was
called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an
… and he set out, not knowing where he was
going. Abraham didn't know where he was going! There are some
people who will resist this.
I have to know exactly where I'm
going. I can't live without knowing exactly what the future is going
to bring. However, the Christian life, if it's legitimate, is
filled with mystery. There is much we don't know.
Here is a woman, for example, who's been told by her husband that
it's not her fault, but he isn't sure if he wants to stay in the
marriage. The woman loves her husband, and so she has two choices to
make. One is that she will say,
I can't stand this. I can't stand
this uncertainty. I am going to terminate the marriage so I can have
certainty. The other response she could make is what I would call
the response of faith. She could say,
I don't know where I'm going
in my marriage. But, I'm going to hang in there. I'm going to bear
the uncertainty. That is faith. Faith is like the headlights on our
car. We cannot, if we're driving from one place to another, have our
headlights shine three thousand miles ahead to tell us exactly how
everything is going to turn out. But faith can help us see the next
hundred or two hundred yards.
A dear friend in seminary had cancer. He was facing a serious operation. It wasn't so much the operation itself or what it would yield. He simply did not like anesthesia; he didn't want to be put to sleep. He was afraid he would never wake up. Many people have this fear. He struggled with this for some time. Then finally, he had an experience of the risen Christ in which he knew that Christ was with him no matter what. He went into that operation with peace of heart, knowing that although he didn't have knowledge of what the outcome would be, he knew he was in the arms of God. That made all of the difference.
Faith is trust when you're going somewhere, but don't know exactly where. Yet we trust that God will be with us. More that being a way of knowing, faith is trust when we don't know. May God give us this trust.
The foregoing is based on a sermon given by the Rev. Carl Bickel, July 22, 2001.
© 2001 Carl O. Bickel