When God says to humankind, “Believe,” he demands something that’s wholly beyond reason. Faith is totally illogical. Its very definition has to do with something unreasonable. Think about it: Hebrews says faith is the substance of something hoped for, evidence that’s unseen. We’re being told, in short, “There is no tangible substance. There isn’t any evidence at all.” Yet we’re asked to believe. Can you think of any demand that’s more unreasonable than this one? It says, simply, “Accept this without evidence. Trust the unseen.” It’s totally beyond logic.
I’m addressing this subject for an important reason. Right now, all over the world, multitudes of believers are bowed low in discouragement. God’s people are going through trials, struggles, sufferings, confusion of all kinds. The fact is, we’re all going to continue facing discouragement in this life. Yet I believe if we can understand the nature of faith — its illogical, unreasonable nature — we’ll find the help we need to get through.
Consider the faith that was demanded of Noah. He lived in a generation that had spun out of control. We can’t begin to fathom the evil times this man lived in: violence and murder were rampant. Giants gave birth to “mighty men.” Unspeakable wickedness had spread wantonly. The condition of humans had grown so awful, God couldn’t take any more. Finally, he said, “Enough! Man is set on destroying himself. It must end.”
He told Noah, “I’m going to destroy all flesh. But I’ll preserve you and your family. So, I want you to build an ark, Noah. And I want you to gather into it all the animal species, in twos. While you’re doing this, I’ll give the inhabitants of the earth 120 years of mercy. Then I’m going to send a rain that won’t stop for 40 days and nights. There will be a great flood, and it will wipe out every living thing.” God then proceeded to give Noah the dimensions of the ark — its length, width and depth — in great detail.
Imagine Noah’s bafflement as he tried to grasp this. God was going to send a cataclysmic event, one that would destroy the entire earth. Yet all that Noah was told about the matter were these brief words from heaven. He was simply to accept it by faith, without receiving any more direction for 120 years.
Think about what faith was demanding of Noah. He was given a mammoth task to build a huge ark. And meanwhile, he had to live in a violent, dangerous world. He was surrounded by giants, murderers, skeptics, all who watched his every step. I’m sure they mocked Noah as he tediously worked on the ark through the years. And, being hardened in violence, they probably threatened to kill him. Yet faith demanded that Noah keep his heart “moved with fear” (see Hebrews 11:7). He had to keep believing, while the whole world around him danced, partied and wallowed in sensuality.
In essence, God had told this man, “You are to believe my word, Noah. I’m asking you to obey me, with no excuses. If you ever start to doubt, or feel like giving up, you have to trust what I’ve told you. I’m not giving you any other evidence, just my promise. You are to act on that alone.”
What a totally illogical picture. Surely at times, Noah was thwarted, both outwardly and inwardly. How many days did he spend discouraged? How often did he wonder, “This is so foolish. How can I know that was God’s voice?” But Noah did as God said. He kept trusting the word he’d been given, for more than a century. And for his obedience, Scripture says, Noah “became heir of the righteousness which is by faith” (see Hebrews 11:7).
Consider Abraham. God told this man, “Get up, go out, and leave your country.” Surely Abraham wondered, “But where, Lord?” God would have answered simply, “I’m not telling you. Just go.”
This wasn’t logical. It was a totally unreasonable demand to any thinking person. I’ll illustrate by asking every Christian wife: what if your husband came home one day and said, “Pack up, honey, we’re moving.” Of course, you’d want to know why, or where, or how. But the only answer he gives you is, “I don’t know. I just know God said so.” There’s no rhyme or reason to this kind of demand. It simply isn’t logical.
Yet this is precisely the illogical direction that Abraham followed. “By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went” (Hebrews 11:8). Abraham packed up his family and set out, not knowing where he would end up. All he knew was the brief word God had given him: “Go, Abraham, and I’ll be with you. No harm will come to you.” Faith demanded that Abraham act on nothing more than this promise.
One starry night, God told Abraham, “Look up into the sky. See the innumerable stars? Count them if you can. That’s how many descendants you’re going to have” (see Genesis 15:5). Abraham must have shaken his head at this. He was old by now, as was his wife, Sarah. They were long past the time of ever possibly having a child. Yet here he’s given a promise that he would become a father of many nations. And all the evidence he had to go on was a word from heaven: “I am the Lord” (15:7).
But Abraham obeyed. And the Bible says the same thing of him that it says of Noah: “He believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness” (15:6). Once again, we see an illogical scene. Yet one man’s faith is translated into righteousness.
Consider the children of Israel. Think about the trying conditions God led them into. He delivered them from Pharaoh’s grip in Egypt, only to be hemmed in at the Red Sea. The Israelites were surrounded by mountains on either side, and Pharaoh’s army was quickly descending on them from behind. It was a hopeless situation, with no human way out. Their hearts must have pounded as they heard the rumble of Pharaoh’s chariots and saw the dust rising from his horses.
Even though I know the outcome of this scene, my flesh wants to argue with God: “It doesn’t seem fair, Lord. What a traumatic situation for these families and their children. They’re stuck there, with no rafts or boats, wondering what they’re going to do. Lord, in one night you slew all of Egypt’s firstborn. Why didn’t you slay all these soldiers in the desert? What’s the difference if you drown them or kill them in the desert? It’s unreasonable, with all these children crying, all the men and women quaking in fear. They’ve obeyed you, yet you’ve allowed this to come upon them. Why put them through it?”
The fact is inescapable: God led them into this situation. And the whole scene is totally illogical, absolutely unreasonable. God simply expected them to believe the word he’d already give them: “I’m going to take you in my arms and carry you through the wilderness. No enemy will prosper against you, because I will be with you. You’re simply to stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.”
I ask you: how many of us today would have stood there fearful and crying, as these Israelites did? If we’re honest, we know that’s just how we react now, in most of our crises. Isn’t the condition of our hearts similar to theirs?
Simply put, faith is very demanding. It demands that once we hear God’s Word, we’re to obey it, with no other evidence to direct us. It doesn’t matter how big our obstacles may be, how impossible our circumstances. We’re to believe his Word and act on it, with no other proof to go on. God says, “My promise is all you need.”
Like every generation before us, we also wonder, “Lord, why am I faced with this test? It’s beyond my comprehension. You’ve allowed so many things in my life that don’t make sense. Why is there no explanation for what I’m going through? Why is my soul so troubled, so filled with great trials?”
Hear me again: the demands of faith are totally unreasonable to humankind. So, how does the Lord answer our cries? He sends his Word, reminding us of his promises. And he says, “Simply obey me. Trust my Word to you.” He accepts no excuse, no disobedience, no matter how impossible our circumstances may seem.
Please don’t misunderstand me. Our God is a loving Father. And he doesn’t allow his people to suffer indiscriminately, for no reason. We know he has at his disposal all the power and willingness to make every problem and heartbreak go away. He can merely speak a word, and rid us of every trial and struggle.
Yet, the fact is, God isn’t going to show us how or when he’ll fulfill his promises to us. Why? He doesn’t owe us any explanation, when he has already given us the answer. He’s given us everything we need for life and godliness in his Son, Jesus Christ. He is all we need for every situation life throws at us. And God is going to stand on the Word he has already revealed: “You have my Word within your reach. My promises are yea and amen to all who believe. So, rest on my Word. Believe it and obey it.”
The Bible tells us Israel “provoked” God ten times in the wilderness. What were these provocations? They were ten situations when the Israelites faced great tests. Time after time, these people were placed in circumstances that seemed impossible. Perhaps you’ve wondered at times, as I have, “Lord, why all those tests?”
In each instance, God was looking to raise up in his people a glimmer of faith. He was searching for just a small measure that he could build on. You see, he wanted to give the world a testimony of his faithfulness to his people. And Israel was to be that testimony. God was saying, in essence, “When I take my people into hard places, I expect them to act on my promises to them. My Word is life to all who believe. And I want that message preached and demonstrated to a lost and dying world.”
That Word had already been made available to Israel. God had told them, “I’m going to bring you out of affliction, into a land flowing with milk and honey. No one will be able to stand against you. I AM will be with you. And not a promise of mine will fail." The same is true for God’s people today. As long as the earth exists, his promises remain the same: “I will bring you out of your affliction. Trust the great I AM.”
This is why the God of utmost patience has no patience with unbelief in his children. Hebrews says, “Some, when they had heard, did provoke” (Hebrews 3:16). What did they hear? They had heard God’s Word: promises of protection, guidance and goodness. But instead of trusting in that word, they focused on their hopeless situations. And they allowed unbelief to take hold in their hearts. God responded by saying, “I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest” (Hebrews 3:11).
These people wanted something reasonable. They wanted to stand on something they could see, feel and touch. They wanted God to spell out for them the path that lay ahead for them. But that isn’t faith. Faith means saying, “God has given me a promise. And I’m going to live and die by that promise. I don’t care what it takes for me to lay hold of it. I’m staking everything, my whole life, on his Word to me.”
Hebrews asks, “With whom was he grieved forty years? Was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcasses fell in the wilderness? And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief” (Hebrews 3:17-19).The fact is, every one of Israel’s trials passed. And God faithfully delivered them from each one. Yet those same Israelites who experienced God’s goodness ended up dead in the wilderness. Why? Each time a trial came up, they grumbled and became hard, refusing to believe.
What about you? Are you in a frightening place right now, as Israel was? Do you feel hopeless, empty, stripped to nothing? To everyone who’s facing a severe struggle, I say, your trial will also pass. So, what does God expect of you now, in the midst of it?
Perhaps you’re grieving, anguishing over a struggle that doesn’t seem to end. You’re bowed low, more discouraged than you’ve ever been. Your friends may tell you, “Don’t cry and mourn. That’s not showing faith.” But that’s not so. The truth is, if you have faith, you’re able to cry. You can’t avoid your pain. In fact, there’s healing power in your tears. Your mourning has nothing to do with whether you trust in God’s Word.
At times, you may wonder, “Lord, what did I do wrong? What sin did I commit? Is this your judgment on me?” You may even feel like confronting him, crying, “Why did you let this happen? What did I do to make you allow it?” I tell you, God gives you time for those questions. He allows your flesh to have its tantrums.
Then, finally, the Lord comes to you and says, “You’ve had a right to all those feelings. But you have no reason to accuse me or doubt me. I’ve given you a promise. Indeed, I’ve given you everything you need. And you are to lay hold of that promise now. If you do, my Word will become life to you. It will bring healing to you that’s greater than any medicine, more powerful than any river of tears.”
Over and over, the Psalmist asks, “Why is my soul cast down? I feel useless, forsaken. There’s such a restlessness inside me. Why, Lord? Why do I feel so helpless in my affliction?” These questions speak for multitudes who have loved and served God.
Take godly Elijah, for example. We see him under a juniper tree, begging God to kill him. He’s so downcast, he’s to the point of giving up his own life. We also find righteous Jeremiah cast down in despair. The prophet cries, “Lord, you’ve deceived me. You told me to prophesy all these things, but none of them has come to pass. I’ve done nothing but seek you all my life. And this is how I’m repaid? Now I’ll no longer mention your name.”
Each of these servants had a temporary attack of unbelief. But the Lord understood their condition in times of confusion and doubt. And after a period, he always pointed them to the way out. In the midst of their afflictions, the Holy Spirit turned on the light for them. And Scripture records their experiences as examples for us.
Consider Jeremiah’s testimony of how he came out of his pit: “Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart” (Jeremiah 15:16). David also testified, “I remembered your Word.” And Elijah said, “Thy word came unto me.” At some point, each of these servants remembered God’s Word. And it became the joy and rejoicing of their lives, pulling them out of the pit.
The truth is, the whole time these people were struggling, the Lord was sitting by, waiting. He heard their cries, their pain, their anguish. And after a certain time had passed, he told them, “You’ve cried it out now. You’ve had your time of grief and doubt. Now I want you to trust me. Will you go back to my Word? Will you lay hold of my promise to you? If you do, my Word will see you through.”
It doesn’t matter how we came into our hopeless situation. Sometimes it’s the Lord’s doing, bringing us to our wit’s end. Sometimes it’s the enemy attacking us, as he did with Job. Sometimes it’s our flesh, whether through temptation, or through a mental or physical trial. The fact is, it doesn’t matter how we got there. All that matters is how we get out of it. And there’s no other way out than by God’s Word.
The Holy Spirit is faithful to speak to us. He lets us know when it’s time to lay aside all our doubts and questions. If we don’t — if we refuse to go back to trusting God’s Word, allowing his promises to become once more the joy of our lives — unbelief will set in. And it will harden like concrete. At that point, we’ll fall into a pit we can never get out of. Our every thought toward God will be hard and accusing, instead of trusting. And his wrath is against all who forsake their confidence in his Word.
For centuries, the Jews had looked for the Messiah to come. They believed Israel’s Savior would be a king, coming in majesty and power to set up rule in Jerusalem. He would be a mighty deliverer, commanding an invincible army. And he would break the yoke that Rome had placed on Israel’s neck. Then he would overthrow every other power on the face of the earth.
Can you imagine the great anticipation that every Jew had for this Savior’s coming? He was going to wipe out all sickness, take away all pain, free the poor from poverty, and give the people all that their hearts desired. He would make Israel a great people and a prosperous nation. And he would do it all with an incredible show of might.
So, is this how the Messiah arrived? No, we know it isn’t. He was born in a stable, of all places. And the story of his birth is the most illogical, unreasonable aspect of all. This Messiah had no earthly father; he was conceived immaculately by the Holy Spirit, and carried in the womb of a virgin. His arrival wasn’t announced by mighty trumpets, but by an old priest and an elderly prophetess. They declared simply, “Here is the expected one of Israel. Believe on him, for he is God.”
Who were they speaking of, exactly? A lowly Nazarene, a carpenter. When Jesus came on the scene, people said, “Wait a minute. We know this fellow’s parents.” Someone might even have said, “Joseph brought him into our home once, to help fix our table.” How could anyone be expected to believe such a man was the Messiah? It was totally unreasonable.
Jesus didn’t announce his Lordship with a mighty army. He showed up with just twelve uneducated, working-class disciples. They weren’t schooled in great theology. They were fishermen, day laborers, tradesmen. And Jesus was no different. So, how could anyone accept that he was an authority on God’s Word? Everybody knew that Israel’s true leaders sat at the feet of Gamaliel, learning from the foremost scholar of the day. Meanwhile, this carpenter’s son taught in the deserts and along the seashores. His audiences were made up of widows, lepers, prostitutes. And he was telling them all, “I’m God in flesh. Believe in me.”
Imagine the reaction that any religious leader must have had: “This man stands in the synagogues, declaring he’s the Messiah. He says he was sent from God. But he’s got no royal birth or lineage. He doesn’t even have a place to lay his head. He rushes into the temple and drives out all our salespeople. And he calls the temple ‘my Father’s house.’ But he doesn’t explain where he got such authority. In fact, he claims he’s the temple of God. He says he existed before Abraham.
“He says he’s living water, bread from heaven, both man and God. Then he uses bizarre language, telling us to eat his body and drink his blood. He says if we’ve seen him, we’ve seen the Father. But if we don’t believe in him, then we don’t believe in God. Yet, what’s his authority for all these claims? It’s just his word. He just comes along and says, ‘Trust me.’”
Think about what these leaders heard Jesus say: “He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life” (John 5:24). They protested, telling Christ, “Thou bearest record of thyself; thy record is not true” (8:13). Jesus answered with them yet another unreasonable explanation: “It is…written in your law, that the testimony of two men is true. I am one that bear witness of myself, and the Father that sent me beareth witness of me” (8:17-18).
Finally, Jesus puts the whole matter into perspective. He tells them, “Why do ye not understand my speech? Even because ye cannot hear my word” (8:43). He was saying, “You can’t comprehend me because you don’t hear my Word.” The same is true for every believer today. It all boils down to one issue: trusting in God’s Word. His Word alone is our life and hope.
We’re living in a time of the greatest gospel revelation in history. There are more preachers, more books, more gospel-media saturation than ever. Yet there has never been more distress, affliction and troubled minds among God’s people. Pastors today design their sermons just to pick people up and help them deal with despair. They preach on God’s love and patience. They remind us that he understands our times of discouragement. We’re told, “Hold on, be encouraged. Even Jesus felt forsaken by his Father.”
There’s nothing wrong with this. I preach these truths myself. Yet I believe there’s still just one reason why we see so little victory and deliverance: it is unbelief. The fact is, God has spoken with great clarity in these last days. And this is what he has said: “I’ve already given you a Word. It is finished and complete. Now, stand on it.”
Let no one tell you we’re experiencing a famine of God’s Word. The truth is, we’re experiencing a famine of hearing God’s Word, and of obeying it. Why? Faith is so unreasonable. Yet faith never comes to us by logic or reason. Paul states plainly, “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). This is the only way true faith will ever rise up in any believer’s heart. It comes by hearing — that is, believing, trusting and acting on — God’s Word.
I want to close with an imaginary conversation between the Lord and a discouraged Christian:
Christian: “Lord, I’m down and discouraged. You promised you wouldn’t allow me to carry any burden that’s too heavy, without making a way of escape. But right now I’m overwhelmed. If only you would tell me what this is all about.”
The Lord: “I give you my Word." "For this shall every one that is godly pray unto thee…surely in the floods of great waters they shall not come nigh unto him. Thou art my hiding place; thou shalt preserve me from trouble; thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance. I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye” (Psalm 32:6-8).
Christian: “Lord, I feel so helpless. My strength is nearly gone. Fear and doubts plague my mind. I can’t see any way out. The future looks so hopeless.”
The Lord: “I give you my Word." "The eye of the Lord is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy; to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine. Our soul waiteth for the Lord: he is our help and our shield” (Psalm 33:18-20).
Christian: “Lord, sometimes I feel I must have offended you. Is this trial a judgment of some kind? Will it ever end?”
The Lord: “I give you my Word." "This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them. O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him….
“The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry…. The righteous cry, and the Lord heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles…. Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivereth him out of them all…. The Lord redeemeth the soul of his servants: and none of them that trust in him shall be desolate” (Psalm 34:6-8, 15, 17, 19, 22).
In just three Psalms, we are given enough of God’s Word to drive out all unbelief. I urge you now: hear it, trust it, obey it. And finally, rest in it. This will be our testimony of our faithful God, through every trial and affliction.