Carla brought the word today--a Lenten message about faith and wandering. Abraham's faith journey included a faith transition
God had already led Abram through a lot of stuff before this passage and Abram followed; Abram left his own country and his father’s house when God said, “Go.” Abram went without question. He went to Egypt and prospered there. Then he went to Bethel and gave Lot first choice of land to settle. Again God commanded and promised, telling Abram, “Walk through the land and I will give it to you.” Abram seems bold, courageous, obedient, humble, and faithful in all he does.
The biblical picture of God and Abram’s relationship is fairly straightforward. God speaks, Abram listens. God promises, Abram believes. God commands, Abram obeys. There comes a point, however, when Abram finally says, “Wait a minute. I have a question.”
Thank goodnesss!! Abram is the model of belief and faithfulness, but is also a person who needs to KNOW how God is going to fulfill God’s promises. Abram looks at his life and says, “It is unclear to me, God, how you are going to work things out. There are some pretty big obstacles in the way. I’d like to have just a little more information.”
And this question, How can my descendants be that numerous when I don’t even have a child sounds like he might be complaining a little bit. And then the questions come a bit faster, Are you really going to give me what I want, God? Is a slave going to be my heir? I want a legitimate son. Can a person who questions and complains also be a model of faith?
So, this is where I’m going to pause for a second…because look at Abram…he has been the MODEL of faithfulness up to this point…God commands, he does it. God says jump, Abram says how high…UNTIL NOW. And now Abram is starting to question if God is really going to do what God says God will do.
SO…what is the TRUE model of faithfulness…is it Abram’s unthinking acquiescence or is it the questioning? I would say, and I think I’m right…that true faithfulness is not what Abram was before…it’s the questioning Abram now.
Feminist theologian Flora Keshgegian characterizes the patriarchal understanding of God as limiting, “The right relationship we have with God is a formal one,” she writes of patriarchy, “of a subordinate to a superior, of a child to a formidable parent. God provides and we accept, gratefully and humbly. There is no room for reciprocity or mutuality or even closeness in such a relationship.”
And she’s right. The relationship between Abram and God before he questions God is unquestioning acceptance or silent submission. We are tempted to think that is what faith is and that is ONLY what faith us. But as we follow Abram on this journey, he clearly comes to a point when he challenges and questions God’s claims…he actually gets involved and becomes a part of the conversation. I firmly believe that his struggling is not only part of faith, it is an essential part of faith.
This begs the question…what is the model of faithfulness? So often when people face perplexing questions--when they feel the anxiety of doubt and uncertainty, when they struggle with frustration and disappointment--they think of it as a crisis of faith. WE are tempted to think of faith only as unquestioning acceptatnce or silent submission, but as we follow Abram on this jounry of faith, he clearly comes to a point where he challenges and questions God’s claims. This kind of struggling with God can also be a part of faith….
To answer his questions, God takes him outside for an astronomy question. And Abram believed the Lord.
But what does Abram believe? That he will have a child? That God can be trusted? That there are a lot of stars in the sky?
Does Abram completely understand how God will fulfill what God has promised? That seems unlikely. However, Abram does believe that God will be faithful and true. Abram believes that the life God promises to give Abram is the course he should try and follow.
Abram’s faithfulness is questioning faithfulness, a pleading with God for more: more information, more clarity, more courage, more commitment as we stumble along, trying to follow the steps God calls us to on our own journey of faith.
Abram questions God because he truly believes that God can do something about it. Such questions can also help us take the next steps of our journey of faith.