It is because of his faith in God that Abraham is called the father of faith. Paul says that those who have faith are his children, (Gal 3:7). Whenever we talk about Abraham, we believe he was great because he had such great faith in God. Many authors of the New Testament used him as the ultimate example when they talked about faith. In the book of Hebrews, the author used two events to describe this: Abraham left his clan, his land and family to travel to the promised land; then later he was prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac, so illustrating his willingness to lay down his past and future because of his faith in God. He was prepared to forego his whole life. Looking at this all-time great, we inevitably feel inadequate. How can we, without asking for a reason, simply trust and obey God’s direction? Does it mean that we lack faith when we fail to follow his example?
Recently when I was preparing for bible study with the youth fellowship, my attention was drawn to Abraham’s many struggles throughout his journey from Ur to the promised land. He and his wife, Sarah, were getting old but remained childless. Abraham agreed to Sarah’s suggestion to take Hagar as his concubine and adopt her child as Sarah’s son. Some people have critically commented that this action, a human solution in lieu of God’s promise, represented his lack of faith in God. However, does Abraham’s approach help us to expand our imagination of faith?
There were four separate passages regarding God’s promise to Abraham, that he would become the father of many nations, they are recorded in Gen 12:1-9, Gen 13:14-17,
Gen 15:1-6, and Gen Ch 17. When we compare these passages, we can see that God’s promise, from being quite obscure in the beginning, becomes gradually clearer.
Let us try to get into Abraham’s mind through reading these passages. In Genesis 12:1-3, God called Abraham to leave Ur, at that time promising that Abraham’s descendants would become a great nation. I believe it was for this particular reason that he did not take his father Terah with him. (Terah was 70 years old when Abraham was born. When Abraham left Ur, Terah would have been 145 years old, but still alive.) Instead, Abraham chose to take his nephew, Lot. To become a great nation, there must be an heir in place. Gen 11:30 told us that Sarah was childless because she was not able to conceive. So, the only available heir at the time seemed to be Lot. An heir was vital to become a great nation. I believe that in Genesis 15:3, Abraham still recognized that Lot was his sole heir. He said to God, “You have given me no children; so, a servant in my household will be my heir.” However, in verse 4, God said, “this man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir”. It was only then that Abraham understood that his heir must come from his own blood line. Lot did not. The next passage was about Hagar and her son Ishmael. As far as Abraham was concerned, though Ishmael was born of his concubine, he was his own flesh and blood. Considering his circumstances at the time, perhaps he believed this was the best solution to realise God’s promise. In Gen 17:18, Abraham still believed that Ishmael was the son that God promised him. It was in 17:19, that God clearly pointed out that only a son born of Sarah would become his heir.
Through Abraham’s experience perhaps we may ask whether or not you should have your own opinion or plan if you have faith in God? When opinions or plans appear to be contradictory, how do I understand and respond? It goes without saying that we must make every effort to seek God’s will in our lives. However, at times, we find it difficult to move forward if we become so fixated in seeking God’s will. While we are waiting, can we try to explore other possibilities? I recalled the time when I decided to study theology, one of my struggles was had I correctly perceived God’s calling for me? Was being called solely my idea or was it really God’s? At that time my theology teacher encouraged me by saying, “God’s will is not a spot light allowing us to clearly see the final destination. His word is a lamp for our feet and a light on our path. Though we can only see what is immediately in front of us, do you believe that what you are doing is for God, then He will guide you and make straight your path?”
Brothers and sisters, what is faith? Is it vigorously and wholeheartedly surrendering our all regardless, or should we persevere in moving forward through our daily struggles? Or is it both?
Pastor Benjamin Cho