I originally wrote this blog post in November of 2012 on another site. Tomorrow, though, I’ll be preaching (Hebrews 11:7) on this very same passage, so I thought it worthwhile to edit and re-post in this new space.
“By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.” Hebrews 11:7
When I was in High School, the worst part of the day was lunch time. It was the worst part of the day because I didn’t have many friends to sit with in the cafeteria. I did find some people I sort of knew, but I was always the odd one out and rarely participated in their conversations. After they ate, I would either awkwardly hang around or head off alone to my locker.
In fact, all of Middle School and High School was a struggle for me when it came to social events. I always felt a little out of place, a little lonely, and quite a bit different than everyone else around me. My unease came from an obsession to be liked, or at least not disliked, by my peers.
It wasn’t really until my senior year that I finally began to come to grips with my own identity and began to care a little less about how well I fit in, or didn’t.
I would like to say I had trouble having friends because I was courageously standing up for Jesus but I think most of the time it was just because I was socially awkward.
Noah, on the other hand, most certainly faced criticism because of his faith. In Noah’s time, the world was filled with violence and the people were extremely wicked. By contrast Noah was “a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God.” (Gen 6:9)
God warned Noah that he was going to destroy the world with a flood, something people had never seen before, and instructed him to build a giant boat; an ark. Noah responded in obedience, out of “holy fear.”
Noah displayed faith. As it says in Hebrews 1:1, “faith is being sure of what we do not see.” He was warned of something not yet seen (a future flood), was sure that it would come, and responded appropriately. Noah also had confidence that God would reward those who earnestly seek him (1:6), and in this case that meant escape for himself and his family from the judgment of God.
Noah most certainly faced mocking and criticism. He had already set himself apart as a righteous man, now he was building a giant boat in the middle of his back yard. One of the striking phrases of 11:7 is this: “by his faith he condemned the world.” This is an odd (and probably offensive sounding) phrase. Certainly Noah could not condemn in the sense that God condemns, that is, Noah didn’t cause the flood. Instead, he condemned the world in the sense that by his faith “he showed the wisdom of his own course and the folly of theirs” (Barnes Commentary on Heb 11:7).
Now, no one wants to feel condemned, either by God or by others, so there was most certainly a strong reaction against Noah, not just as a “crazy man” but as an enemy of the status quo. People didn’t just think he was nuts, they hated him.
Nevertheless, Noah put his faith in God and withstood the attack of the enemy. He was willing to go against the current (pun intended) and he was rewarded. Meanwhile, his adversaries were destroyed in the flood.
It takes faith to be willing to go against the current. It takes faith to be willing to be left out, or worse, because you trust God’s Word over man’s.
Based on this passage, here was my word to the students in our After School program, but it’s also a message I wouldn’t mind sending back in time to my High School self:
Going against your peers to follow God is probably more difficult at this point in your life than in any other. I get that. But be strong and courageous. God will get you through.
Be willing to stand up for what you know to be right. Be willing to opt-out from what you know is wrong.
At this stage of life, you are forming an identity and you have a choice. Your identity can either be formed by Jesus in obedience to God – which leads to the rewards that only He can give (salvation, eternal life with God after death, life to the abundance now) or you can be “conformed to the patterns of this world”, following the crowd, ultimately to destruction.
It takes faith to choose the former option. You have to trust that God exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. Like Noah, it will take sacrifices along the way. But, choosing to follow God, even when it means rejection by the world, leads to a much greater reward.