Yes Abram, God Really Said That
Abraham is without doubt one of the most important figures in the Old Testament (and maybe even in the new testament!). He is the Father of the Faith. We look to him as a role-model of the faithful follower, as someone who boldly took the leap of faith in following God and never looked back. This characature of Abraham, however, is just not true. Abraham’s faith did not come easily. A necessary component of faith is uncertainty, and uncertainty makes us uncomfortable! Even for someone like Abraham, there were moments where uncertainty threatened to crush faith, moments where uncertainty seemed to weigh down on Abraham, making it difficult, even seemingly impossible to walk forward on the path of faith. There were even moments when the uncomfortableness of uncertainty began to transform into the dread of doubt. Uncertainty, not knowing for sure, being uncomfortable in the face of divine mystery, is a healthy component of faith. Doubt, however, the feeling that God won’t come through, the thought that God doesn’t really have our best interest at heart after all, the whispering of that ancient serpent, “Did God really say?.... Will God really do?....” doubt threatens the promises of God and even endangers the creation that awaits the fulfillment of those promises.
From Fruit to Famine
From Fruit to Famine
At the beginning of Chapter 12, God calls Abram out of the land of Haran and to the land of Canaan. Though Abram and his wife, Sarai, are childless and aging, Yahweh, the creator God, promises that he will bless them, so that they will be fruitful and multiply. Even in barrenness, this God will bring forth life. And so, Abram and Sarai leave everything they have behind to follow God into the great unknown. Little by little, Abram and Sarai make their way toward the Negeb, an area within the promised land, holding onto the hope that when they get there, the life-giving power of God will make itself manifest.
No such thing happens, however. When Abram, after journeying almost 500 miles through desert wastes and mountains, on roads plagued by bandits and highwaymen, through plains where lions and wild beasts roamed, Abram and Sarai finally arrive in a promised land that doesn’t look so promising. Famine has taken the land. I can only imagine the disappointment Abram and Sarai felt at this moment. They had left everything. God had strung them along for 500 miles on this wild dream and hope that someone their age might really be able to have a child, to raise a family, and to inherit the land of paradise. Such a promise must have now appeared to be a cruel joke. The couple had moved from one state of barrenness to another. And here in this moment in the story, you can almost hear the whisper in Abram’s ear: “Did God really say...? Will God really do...?”
It’s not too hard to put ourselves in Abram and Sarai’s sandals. God has promised us eternal life, new creation, the end of all suffering, the power of the Holy Spirit. And yet, after journeying with God for many years, we can stop and look around us to find that the world is still a violent, hopeless, barren place.
And so Abram packs up his tent, and he and his wife move elsewhere. They travel another 250 miles south to Egypt, hoping that they’ll find the land they’d been promised there. Only now, Abram’s doubt of God’s goodness has leaked over into his entire worldview. As they approach Egypt, Abram begins to doubt the goodness of Pharaoh as well. As so many of us often do, Abram begins to think the worst of Pharaoh, even without any reason to. And in entertaining these doubts and suspicions, Abram breaks faith not only with God, but also with Pharaoh, and even with his wife.
In order to protect himself, Abram is willing to jeopardize the safety and well-being of Sarai. And in doing this, Abraham has placed the whole promise of God in jeopardy. The promised child is to come through Sarai. Without Sarai, there can be no child. Abram seems to have disregarded any hope of God upholding his promises at all! This is more than mere uncertainty, it has become crippling doubt that God would not or could not do what he said he would do.
Some of us, I’m sure, have been here before. When we see our loved ones suffering from disease. When we witness the people we care about die one by one. When we see yet another mass shooting, or another senseless war, or another natural disaster that leaves thousands homeless, hopeless, destitute. One moment we’re caught up in the blessings and promises of God, and then, in the blink of an eye, the promised land turns to barren wastes. Hope turns to despair, and the promises of God seem to slip through our hands, as if we were trying to grasp at smoke.
From Blessing to Curse
From Blessing to Curse
Abram’s doubt, however, is not just an isolated, internal struggle. What goes on in our hearts and minds never really stays there, it gets lived out as we act in the world. God promised Abram that he would be a blessing to the nations, and yet in his disregard for the promise, Abram has twisted the blessing and flipped it upside down. Instead of being a blessing, Abram becomes a curse for Pharaoh. The story tells us,
“And for her sake, Pharaoh dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male and female slaves, female donkeys, and camels.
But because of Sarai, Abram’s Wife, the LORD afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues.
But the LORD afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife.
When we let our doubt become so overwhelming that it leads us to break faith with God, the consequences can be severe, and not just for us. Pharaoh is struck with plagues, his house suffers on Abram’s account. This is not even to mention Sarai, who has become a pawn in the game being played by Abram.
When Adam and Eve first listened to the serpent, their doubt of God’s goodness and provision lead to a curse for all of humanity. So too, when Abram doubt’s God’s faithfulness to his promises, it leads to curse for those around him.
This is a harsh lesson for the church. In the history of the church, we have often disregarded the promises of God. When prayer, evangelism, and church planting don’t quite work like we’d hoped, we stop waiting on God and take matters into our own hands. This has lead to untold horrors in the history of the world. The church, like the descendants of Abraham, is to be a beacon of light and hope in the world. That hope and light, however, only ever comes from God. It is not something we have intrinsically, it is not something we can grasp for ourselves. To proceed in unfaithfulness, to walk outside the boundaries of God’s promise, always leads to curse, and usually not just for us, but for those around us, and even for the whole world.
The Faithfulness of God
The Faithfulness of God
Abram certainly got himself into a mess. The very woman who was to bring forth the child of promise is now in jeopardy. The promise of God is threatened, and looks to be irreparably broken. Luckily, though Abram was unfaithful, God remained faithful. God did not stand idly by and watch his promises fade away. Instead, he intervened into the affair to secure his plans and remain faithful even despite Abram’s unfaithfulness that lead to this whole mess to begin with.
The reality is that, like Abram, we have all broken faith with God. Though God continues to remain faithful to his promises, humanity can’t seem to do the same. Like Abram, we continue to listen to the whispering of the serpent, that calls us toward doubt and suspicion of God’s goodness.
Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much, in every way. For in the first place the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. What if some were unfaithful? Will their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Although everyone is a liar, let God be proved true, as it is written, “So that you may be justified in your words, and prevail in your judging.” But if our injustice serves to confirm the justice of God, what should we say? That God is unjust to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world? But if through my falsehood God’s truthfulness abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not say (as some people slander us by saying that we say), “Let us do evil so that good may come”? Their condemnation is deserved! What then? Are we any better off? No, not at all; for we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, as it is written: “There is no one who is righteous, not even one; there is no one who has understanding, there is no one who seeks God. All have turned aside, together they have become worthless; there is no one who shows kindness, there is not even one.” “Their throats are opened graves; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of vipers is under their lips.” “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery are in their paths, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For “no human being will be justified in his sight” by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus. Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.
for we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, 10 as it is written:
“There is no one who is righteous, not even one;
11 there is no one who has understanding,
there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned aside, together they have become worthless;
there is no one who shows kindness,
there is not even one.”
13 “Their throats are opened graves;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of vipers is under their lips.”
14 “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 ruin and misery are in their paths,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
But praise God, the promises of the Lord don’t rely on human faithfulness. God is faithful, even when we are not. Though the Israelites broke faith with God time and time again, God never abandoned his plan to make Abraham a blessing to all nations, and to crush the head of the serpent, to redeem humanity.
God’s faithfulness is shown in Jesus Christ. God was so faithful to his promises he was willing to come down in the form of a man and die to keep them!
The cross is proof that God is not all talk, he keeps his promises. He is faithful, he is trustworthy, he is good.
This story will not be the last time that Abram doubts God. Yet, each time Abram’s doubt leads to unfaithfulness, God always responds in faithfulness. He proves his trustworthiness to Abram by his actions.
Moving to Asbury Story
Maybe, like Abraham, the “Father of Faith”, you’re struggling with doubt. Maybe the uncertainty has become too much, it just keeps building up, until it transforms into dread, anxiety, fear, and doubt. If this is you, you’re not alone. Everyone who walks by faith will find themselves in that spot eventually. Even someone like Abraham. A place where “God has promised” becomes “Did God really say?” Where “how can God do this” or “when will God do this” turns into “will God really do this”? That’s a dangerous place to be. Doubt is a direct threat to the promises of God. Doubt threatens to turn the blessings of God into a curse.
And yet, seeing Abram’s doubt, God did not respond with fire and fury. No, he proved his faithfulness by his actions. If you find yourself wondering, “Is God really going to make the world right Again? Is Jesus really going to come back, or did he just leave me here? Did God really say he cares about me?” These are dangerous questions. But I dont’ think God is angry with us for asking them. I dont’ think God is angry at our doubts. No, I believe God hears those doubts, and gently points us toward Jesus on the Cross.
Our doubt jeopardizes God’s plans. Our doubt and suspicion of God can lead to untold harm and damage. And yet, God does not walk away, as unfaithful as we are. He remains faithful. If you find yourself in the dangerous place of doubt, I hope you’ll understand God isn’t glowering down at you angrily, furious that you dare question his mighty power and all-wise plan. No, God is looking on with loving eyes, inviting you to look toward the man hanging on the cross: the God who came down to die for his people. In the midst of our doubt, God is saying, “Come, feel the rugged wood of the cross. See the blood pouring out from the many wounds I’ve endured for you. Look at the crown of thorns pressing into my skin as a testament of my humiliation on your behalf. Press your hands to my side, where the spear pierced my body. Place your hand in my nail-scarred palm, and know that I am faithful to you, that I am good to you, and that I love you.”