Summary: First in a six-part series on the life of faith as seen in the person of Abraham
OK, here’s the story: man worships many gods; man hears voice of real God speaking; man drops everything he’s doing and moves away; man has kid at 100 years of age to 90-year-old wife. That story’s a dime a dozen; I’m sure every one of us can identify with it, right? Or not…
But consider the same story from another angle: man clearly understands what God wants out of him, and is faced with a life-altering decision to make. Does he step out and take the risk, or does he play it safe with the familiar? Now, how many of us can identify?
At beginning of Genesis 12, here’s what we know of Abram:
• Son of Terah, in the line of Shem (son of Noah)
o Shem, not “Shemp”, by the way, as in Shem, Ham and Japheth, not Shemp, Moe, and Curly
• Married to Sarai
• Unable to have kids
• From Ur of the Chaldees
• Headed with father and family from Ur to Canaan, but stopped in Haran
Here’s what else we know of Abram, with reference to his relationship to God:
• Not monotheistic in origin (Law wasn’t given ‘til Exodus 20, remember)
• Gods were connected to nature
• Likely, his father Terah worshipped the moon god; Ur and Haran centers of moon worship
• We’ve all heard of the “man in the moon”, but the “god in the moon”? And yet, very likely, this is the first idea that Abram had about the concept of “God”, that he was a “moon god”.
• Worshipped by being flattered, cajoled, humored, appeased—manipulated
• Most families had family deities as well, if you will—the great cosmic deities were respected and honored, but weren’t the gods people dealt with regularly (sort of like we respect the president and national office holders, but if we’ve got a problem with our trash collection, we call a councilman or a supervisor, not Condoleezza Rice)
• Point is, YHWH is not a God already worshipped by Abram, then; we can almost imagine Abram asking, “uh…do I know You?”
• Abram had heard this call of God prior to Daddy leaving Ur (Acts 7:2-4)
• Finally, in Genesis 12, we learn that Abram begins to obey
Hebrews 11:8 says that it was by faith that Abram obeyed, when God called him to leave his home and family, and he went without knowing where he was going.
What is this quality of “faith”? What does it cause us to do? What are the blessings of faith? What are the obstacles to faith? Why is faith essential in the life of the Christian?
We want to define “faith”, sometimes if we’re not careful, in ways that resemble Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “cheap grace”. I was once on a mission trip in Brazil, and the objective, rightly, was to bring people to Christ—or at least that’s what we supposed—but after awhile, it almost seemed to be more about making the stats look good. The question at the end of every day was, “how many professions of faith today?” In one setting, we were taken to a public school—funny what they’ll allow you to do in a public school setting in a Catholic country that you can’t think of doing in the land of the free. We were taken to four-five different classrooms of elementary-aged students, where we were given five minutes or so to explain the “plan of salvation”, call for a faith response, and say our goodbyes. In every classroom, every hand went up when the invitation was given; every head was counted; every “conversion” was reported upon.
I’m not particularly proud of being involved in that experience. I grant that that was an extreme, but is saving faith, and living faith, about nodding mental assent to a few theological propositions? Is that what the Bible refers to when it talks about “faith”?
Faith is trust plus obedience, put in simple terms. James challenges us that it isn’t enough just to say, “I have faith”, but that real faith demonstrates its reality by doing something. Faith doesn’t sit on its holy posterior; it steps out in concrete action. And I think that actually, really, truthfully living by faith in God is extremely difficult for most American Christians.
“Ah, but Abram was one of those ‘special guys’, real men of faith…we can’t be expected to live like that!” Well, no; Abram was an idol-worshipper who later in this same chapter acted like a real man—a real “girly man”, that is. And furthermore, yes, that’s exactly why Hebrews 11 lists him, so that we, who are called to “walk by faith, and not by sight”, can take our cues from a real, flesh-and-blood guy who did just that: really walked by faith in God!