It was a hot summer day in 2010. The Honda sedan in front of me was completely full—a basket of clothes, books, random kitchen items, and two plants in desperate need of repotting. I was leaving home—this time, for good.
I’m sure Dad would have liked to see one of his sons take over the farm. He said I was his “greatest helper”; my two older brothers had left years earlier to embark on their own adventures. Leaving the farm didn’t even make sense for me, after all. I was saving cash by living at home, had no job lined up, no housing arrangements, and had just one contact out west. In short, I had no real “plan.” All I had was a strange hunch that God wanted me out of town and somewhere else more interesting, and that maybe someday there would be some opportunity to teach at a Christian college (which didn’t exist back then).
And just like that, I hit the road and drove to the Black Hills.
It was the greatest “act of faith” I had ever taken. All of those passages in the New Testament about God taking care of basic needs—food, shelter, clothing, etc.—unfolded before my eyes in countless ways. It was remarkable—no less remarkable than how God was faithful to those in this Hebrews text. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was apparently very much alive in my time, too! And within months, the impossible happened: I heard news about a new startup Christian college in the region and, on the edge of finishing seminary, I was selected to be founding faculty. Good heavens, I thought, If God cares for the sparrows, then I really must be more than a sparrow!
I wish I could say that I made acts of faith like this every month, or every year. Regrettably, I cannot. In fact, in wandering this desert of sorts, I sometimes forget how I even got here. My prayer in recent years is more of “I believe; help my unbelief” than “I trust you, okay, let’s do this.” The words of Sara Groves in “He’s Always Been Faithful” are drowned out by the desperate, melancholy tones of Sufjan Stevens’ “Oh God, Where are You Now?” Perhaps that line from Caedmon’s Call is manifest: “the optimism of my youth is dead and gone.” Or perhaps this is one of those “seasons of life,” or some other vague metaphor that older people always talk about. I don’t know.
But this chapter in Hebrews is a powerful, authentic reminder. The author vindicates the faithfulness of God in how ordinary and sometimes faithless people have made—contrary to their unbelief and ungodliness—incredible acts of divine trust. (The “Hall of Faith” might be crassly re-dubbed “The Hall of Faith of the Faithless”!) It is precisely against the backdrop of, for example, Abraham and Sarah’s faithlessness and skepticism about God’s promises that the church can be encouraged. It is not remarkable that godly people do godly things, or that faithful Christians commit acts of faith. That’s expected. What’s shocking is that even after blatant lies, failures, and selfishness, Abraham, Jacob, and other Bible figures are able to take the biggest step of all in the right direction. It’s that the dirty fisherman, Zealots, and corrupt tax collectors drop what they’re doing and follow the controversial carpenter, or that the pesky Gentile woman bests the Son of God in conversation amidst his companions—and Jesus declares her faith “great” (Mt 15:27; Mk 7:28).
Thus, we remember that Jesus came not to call the healthy but the sick (Mt 9:12; Lk 5:31), and that God’s grace is truly free and inevitably contains some unpredictability. You can be the greatest of all “flaming pagans” and the most passive of “nominal Christians,” but you are still only one step away from an act of life-changing trust and forgiveness.1 Some opportunities for acts of faith are greater and more frequent than others, and not everyone is called to take the same kind of risks. But, still, God is God, and the Lord isn’t going to stop listening to us any time soon.
The narrative of Hebrews 11 continues to this day, and it’s a story that keeps on living and breathing life into another generation. So the challenge is this: after passing from this world, will you appear in a “hall of faith” in the stories told by your friends and family? Will others gather around decades later to talk about grandma n, aunt x, and great grandfather q who desperately clung to worldly securities, being consumed with anxieties? Or will it be about when they made a leap of faith and the whole family was scared—but their choice was somehow blessed by God?
Cf. WCF ch 15: “As there is no sin so small, but it deserves damnation, so there is no sin so great, that it can bring damnation upon those who truly repent.” ↩