Many of us can remember well-meaning sermons that taught us to “step out in faith,” whether it was writing a larger check than we felt like we had the budget for or taking a big leap in a life decision about marriage or a job opportunity. The bigger the risk, the greater the faith, we were told.
One passage people often turn to for such advice is Gideon’s fleece in Judges 6:36-40. Gideon begged God to confirm his promise. After all, God had just delivered Israel into the hands of Midian and then promised Gideon that he would give Israel victory by his hand. Understandably, Gideon was confused and unsure.
The warrior laid out a fleece of wool. “If there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground,” he said to God, “then I shall know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said.” God did so. Then he begged God to do it once more, just to be certain, and God condescended to answer his prayer.
This wasn’t actually great faith, but a weak faith that needed visible confirmation. What’s amazing is not Gideon’s faith, but God’s mercy in stooping to Gideon’s request—and not just once, but twice. These Old Testament stories aren’t to be lifted out of their context and their place in the history of redemption and then applied directly to your or my situation today. Rather, they all point to Christ, the fulfillment in person of all of God’s promises. Gideon too failed to be Israel’s ultimate deliverer, but Christ has saved his people from their sins.
Today, God still makes a big and bold promise—to our eyes, impossible. To save us even while we have nothing to bring to him. We look at ourselves and find it hard to believe that God justifies—that is, declares righteous—those who are not righteous in themselves but cling to Christ’s robe of righteousness. And God still stoops to confirm his promise visibly by baptism and the Lord’s Supper. And with the Supper, he confirms that promise not just once or even twice, but every time we receive it.
None of this, however, warrants demanding visible signs of God’s purposes where he hasn’t revealed them. God doesn’t promise, “I will bless you four-fold if you give ‘til it hurts to support the church’s building fund.” You’ll never hear us saying, “If you just sow a generous seed to Core Christianity, God will make you rich.”
God doesn’t reveal to you where you should live, whom you should marry, what job you should take, by laying out a fleece. Gideon at least was asking for a confirmation of what he had revealed to him. But God hasn’t revealed to me any of these other things.
So actually, there’s a big line between asking God to confirm what he’s promised and demanding some sort of sign where he hasn’t revealed any promise. God does indeed call us to trust him and his plans for us, even when we don’t know what they are yet, and to make wise decisions based on as much data as he gives us.
So, don’t confuse faith with risk. Where God has clearly promised, and confirmed it by his sacraments, we have no reason to doubt. Where God hasn’t spoken, we still have no reason to doubt his purposes even though we don’t know what they are yet.