Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Only Half The Story

A couple weeks ago, I wrote this post in which I commented on the issue of Abraham's faith in light of the demand from the LORD that he sacrifice his only (legitimate) son. It left me with many questions hanging open, quite afraid to pursue them too far.

Today, in what some might call serendipity and other Providence, Pastor Dan at Street Prophets offers up the call narrative of Abram for consideration. He concludes by asking his readers the following questions:
1. How is God at work recreating the world around us? Where are the new names, the new lands, the new families? Where are the places of promise in the world?

2. What would it mean for you to pick up and accept a call as Abram did? Could you? How might we demonstrate a faithful response to God's initiative these days?

3. Why does Lot come along, anyway? (Hint: this is a bit of a trick question. Think of it in these terms: why does Abram bring Lot along with him?)

The last question is a practical one; as eldest, Abram was the head of the extended household, and Lot had few if any rights or say in the matter. He came along because Abram brought his whole family along. Lot was one of the cattle, as it were.

The first two questions, however, are more closely related, and on first blush offer all sorts of opportunities for progressive Christians to wax eloquent on the power of renewal inherent in grace to manifest itself in the world. Yet, I would submit that, considering the call narrative apart from the entire story - reading just this particular pericope rather than the entire story of Abraham as an arc, a story of faith and doubt, promise and its delayed fulfillment, and fixing in one's mind the demands of faith in this God who calls us out of the familiar, daring us to believe that, while perhaps not we expected, the promises are fulfilled - misses the central point at work in the stories of the patriarchs. From Abraham, to the Jacob-Esau conflict, through the saga of Joseph, the stories of the patriarchs (Isaac is merely an object, for the most part; we only know he nearly died at his father's hand, and was easily manipulated by the women in his life) are stories of how faith is challenged by the vicissitudes of everyday life. Yet, these challenges are overcome because the promises of faith don't dwell on detail - I'll pass this test, win this lottery, get that job, win that woman/man - but more on the end-result. Abraham will be the sire of a great nation; first, however, God will ask him to sacrifice the life of his only heir, thus threatening that promise. Jacob, the younger twin, is to be the bearer of the promise, yet he is so only through the cunning and deviousness of his mother (gotta love those patriarchal family values). Joseph saves the children of Abraham, only to lead them to slavery, from which the LORD must rescue them, making them truly the LORD's people in the process.

In other words, this is only the very beginning of the story. To answer PD's questions, without thinking through the entire Book of Genesis from chapter 12 on is to have a truncated view of the authors' views on faith, on what "promise" and "fulfillment" might mean, and how we should go about seeing these new places to which God is calling us. I believe we need to concern ourselves very much with the messy "how's" of getting from here to there, because Genesis is nothing if not nakedly clear that the process can be messy; and this messiness is as much part of God's plan as the end result.

Never doubt that. God recognizes the compromised state in which we live, the compromised reality that is our lot this side of the eschaton. Inasmuch as it is so compromised, to somehow pretend that the journey itself can be free from the ugliness of the world - including murder, war, betrayal, and so forth - is to miss the reality that the authors of Genesis were pretty clear these, too, are taken up in God's plan - and God's grace - and made holy.

Virtual Tin Cup

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