The Bible gives the dimensions of Noah’s ark and a few other physical details, but it does not describe what it looked like. Was it an elegantly crafted ship, bobbing gracefully across the floodwaters, or was it a rough-hewn box that barely stayed afloat? Artists have painted it in a variety of ways, and craftsmen have built reconstructions that attempt to be faithful to the biblical specifications but that look very different from one another.

As part of my research for my new book, 8 Old Testament Passages That Changed the World, I looked at how the ark has been depicted in films, children’s books, toys, paintings, and other media. Ark Encounter in Kentucky displays a full-size ark interpretation that is more than one and a half football fields long and big enough to fit a three-story museum inside, with live animals, dozens of exhibits, and imagined living quarters for Noah’s family.

The ark in the 2014 film Noah, starring Russell Crowe, on the other hand, is boxy, rough-timbered, and slathered in pitch. It looks homemade, and its chances of surviving the deluge seem questionable. An amateur look is logical, considering Noah likely would have been limited in shipbuilding skills and would have had limited tools and other resources for such an endeavor.

A look at God’s instructions for building the ark reveals another detail about the vessel’s construction that I hadn’t thought of. God gives dimensions and talks about the wood and the decks and the roof, but he says nothing about building a mechanism to steer the ark. Noah wouldn’t need to steer it because all it had to do was float. Noah would be shut inside (Genesis 7:16 says, “Then the Lord shut him in”), and he would be completely dependent on God to bring him through the crisis.

The lack of steering—letting God be in control throughout a long journey—is one of the great unmentioned symbols of Noah’s faith.

The lack of steering—letting God be in control throughout a long journey—is one of the great unmentioned symbols of Noah’s faith. It fits his pattern of complete obedience and trust in God. When the Lord shows up to ask Noah to build this preposterously large boat and fill it with animals, Noah easily could respond with fear or doubt, maybe even panic or outright disobedience. If Noah has questions, they are not recorded. Not a word comes from him. Instead, after God’s first set of instructions on building the ark, Genesis 6:22 simply says, “Noah did everything just as God commanded him.” Once the ark is built and the Lord gives further instructions, Genesis 7:5 says, “And Noah did all that the Lord commanded him.” This was not a man who needed to steer. He had faith that God was leading him.

This complete willingness to trust in God in spite of circumstances is a pattern repeated throughout the Bible. Some of the greatest men and women of faith are the ones who, from a purely human perspective, have the fewest reasons to believe things will turn out well. They are typically given a job to do, with very few details about how they can possibly do it. They don’t get to steer the boat. They can put their trust in God and act, or they can disobey.

Moses is put in one awkward and seemingly impossible situation after another. Confront Pharaoh and demand that the Hebrew slaves be released temporarily or permanently? Not likely. Or how about later, when Pharaoh’s army is bearing down on the outmatched Hebrew people, who are up against the Red Sea, where God told Moses to take them? Wouldn’t that be a time for Moses to panic, or maybe take back the steering wheel from God, who seems not to be paying attention?

Instead, Moses tells his terrified people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Exodus 14:13–14). You remember how the story ends. Through God’s power, Moses parts the Red Sea, and Pharaoh’s army is destroyed. God knew what he was doing after all. Moses only had to believe him.

I could give many other examples of the tremendous faith necessary to trust God to steer. Young David is put in an impossible situation with the mighty Goliath, but he confidently tells his large opponent, “This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel” (1 Samuel 17:46). Amazingly, it works! Not because David is big but because God is.

Or how about Abraham, put in the impossible situation of being asked to sacrifice his son Isaac? How could God be steering that? Abraham obeys, and Isaac lives.

Letting God steer our lives sounds good in principle, but in any given moment, it may feel as if God is driving pretty erratically. I am writing this at a time in my own life when I don’t understand why God is steering the ship in the direction he is—not only for me but also for some family members and friends. I have given him plenty of advice! I’m a good backseat driver. My prayers are filled with navigation ideas that sound pretty good to me. But he insists on driving his own way, following his own route. And, like Noah, Moses, David, Abraham, and others, I am given a choice: Will I trust God, or will I grab the wheel and take off in my own direction?