Friday, October 12, 2012

A Question of Focus

"O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?"  And Abram said, "You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir."
-Genesis 15:2-3

Haven't we all been there?  We move in faith, taking God at His word so we walk in obedience as best as we can.  As far as we can tell, we have dotted our I's and crossed our T's but God's promise(s) seem so far out of reach.  Abram had left his father, his city, and all he knew because he believed God.  He had a reasonable expectation for God's blessing- in this case, a son- and land to boot.  But the circumstances of life didn't seem to justify the trust he had placed in El Shaddai.

Abram (aka Abraham) is known to most by his venerable title, "Father of the Faith".  As such, many of our biblical and non-biblical definitions of faith are brought to light when we consider his life as Moses records it.  Anyone reading Genesis 15, especially the first 7 verses, will have to come to terms with a practical truth of the Christian life: Questions do not indicate an absence of faith, but usually lead lead to deeper trust in God.

Let's be real.  Abram was an old man at 75 when he left Ur.  And he didn't move south to retire- in moving southwest to Canaan, he was taking on the greatest challenge he had ever undertaken.  Honestly, how does a man, his barren wife, and his nephew take possession of a vast land in such a fashion that he actually secures it for his (non-existent) descendants?

Thousands of years removed from the man and his struggle, many Christians glibly reply, "by faith, of course".  Such persons discredit themselves and Abram.  The truth is, God didn't give Abram the details of when/how he would take the land.  He didn't tell Abram about the Canaanites living in the land.  He didn't warn Abram that there'd soon be a famine in the "promised land" after arriving.  He didn't mention that Lot would become a POW, requiring an octogenarian Abraham to become a warrior and lead a rescue party to execute a prison break.

If Genesis 15 is any indication, Abram didn't endure all this without asking questions.  His faith wasn't defined by an ability to avoid the facts.  He wasn't living life pretending that the bad stuff didn't matter.  Abram wasn't afraid to respectfully ask God questions that really mattered:  Where's the son you promised?  What assurances can you give me that this great plan of Yours will come to pass?  An honest reading of the chapter will reveal that God didn't scold Abram for asking questions, but gave him answers that encouraged him to keep trusting.

For this reason, I have consistently encouraged my friends, partners, and students to consider the distinction between asking God questions and questioning God.  In the first case, we give due honor to Him Who has all the answers.  In the second, we exalt ourselves in thinking that God owes us an answer for who He is and what He has done.  Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear.

I sign off with a parting word of encouragement.  Genesis 15:1 says,

The word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision:  "Do not be afraid, Abram.  I am your shield, your very great reward."

The renderings from the NIV and KJV suggest an awesome thought: the reward for faith and obedience is God Himself.  While it's true that God promised a son, land, descendants beyond measure, etc, the true blessing and reward is knowing God.  Therefore, when we can't see the temporal promise we had hoped for, we must turn our eyes to the eternally secure blessing that comes from relationship with the Almighty, Omniscient, ever-righteous, ever-loving Maker of all.

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