As Christians, we believe in God. Very good! But do we believe God? That’s a better question because there’s a big difference between believing in God and actually believing God. The story of Abraham challenges us to actually believe God with such a deep trust in the faithfulness of God that we respond in complete obedience to God.
In Genesis 15:1-7 we really discover how much faith Abraham will indeed have in God. To understand better, there are two considerations that will help us read this scripture not just as a biblical story but as a word from God to us:
- As far as Abraham’s life matters, at this point he has left his country, people, and father’s household as God told him to do, with the assurance of God’s promise of future blessing. Yet he is still without a son, something seemingly necessary for the promised blessing he has received from God which has yet to be fulfilled. Added to this stress, Abraham finds himself in the middle of violent conflicts without an ally since he has rejected a deal with the king of Sodom. So God’s word, “Do not be afraid…I am your shield” (v. 1) asks of Abraham to trust God and depend completely on him to persevere in life, and await for God to fulfill his promise in his own time and own way. The question for us is can we learn to trust in God, depending on his providential guidance and provisions in life?
- As far as the canonical context matters, the book of Genesis begins with the story of creation which includes Adam and Eve, who, in the beginning, lived in faithful dependence upon God. Of course, that changed when Adam and Eve chose their way over God’s way. The full consequence of this choice is played out in Genesis 11 where humans completely reject God assume as they assume a divine role by attempting to make a name for themselves. The story of Abraham begins as a reset button for creation in which God will once again gain a people who will live faithfully to God, beginning with and through the blessing of Abraham. The question for us is whether we choose the way of those people from Babel, trying to make our own way, or the path of Abraham, as people who believe God?
This begs the question of what does it mean to trust in God and believes God? The answer to that question is found in the details of the story.
Can God get an “Amen!”?
Though Abraham is living in a hostile climate and has yet to receive the fulfillment of God’s promise, God only reaffirms his promise to Abraham. What God does not do is say how he will fulfill that promise when Abraham still has a barren wife, when exactly he will fulfill that promise, and what will take place along the journey toward the fulfillment of that promise. Yet Abraham “believed” God (v. 6)!
The Hebrew word for “believed” in v. 6 is where we get our English word “Amen” from. Abraham is giving his “Amen!” to God but what does that mean? It doesn’t mean that Abraham understands everything about God’s promise. It is more Abraham’s way of resigning himself to accept God at his word and go along with God even though he doesn’t understand everything. So even though Abraham has every reason to be afraid, he is making a choice of faith that will now allow God to become “…the voice around which his life is organized” (Brueggeman, Genesis, 140.). Said another way, Abraham has decided that he will live his life by the script God has composed.
Fear kills, but Faith lives!
This is where we must get real about the impasse between faith and fear. This passage invites us to let go of our fears and believe God as well. It’s an invitation to faithfully live into the script God has composed…a script that carries our cross as we follow Jesus, trusting God’s promise of eternal life in Christ. And that takes a lot of faith….faith that gets obscured when fear is the voice we listen to. So this passage also presents a challenge: will we believe God or fear the world?
With that in mind, let’s remind ourselves about the difference between fear and faith. Fear is what we do when we live with the illusion that God is not in control and therefore we must take control. Obsessing over national politics, the economy, protecting our rights to free speech and rights to bear arms is what we do when we are driven by fear. Faith is what we do when we believe God is in control.
Thankfully we have a promise from God given to us in Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected, that frees us to live in faith by the power of the Holy Spirit!
Here is the message I spoke this past Sunday, January 20, 2013 before the Columbia Church of Christ (MP3 formatted): Genesis 15_1-9 _Believe!