Posts Tagged ‘Abraham’

God’s knowing

February 23, 2013

One of the most terrible stories in the Bible is the near sacrifice of Isaac. It’s hard to read and it can be difficult to think about. At the same time it is an important story and worth some discomfort to think about it.

The start of the story tells us that what follows is a test. Which raises the question, why does God test Abraham?

What do you think?

Can it be that God doesn’t know how obedient, how faithful Abraham will be? Is God trying to figure out if Abraham is trustworthy? Is God trying to figure out if Abraham thinks God is trustworthy?

When we read this story we have to wonder, what does God know? Can there be things God doesn’t know?

It is common for Christians to believe that God knows everything. Some of us even believe that God knows the future. And not only that God knows the future, but God has planned the future. However, is that what we find in the Bible?

The book of Genesis is full of stores about God not knowing everything. It is full of stories where God does not control everything.  And there are stories where God changes God’s mind.

God asks Adam and Eve, “Where are you?”

God looks at a corrupt humanity and regrets creating us.

Then God decides that the flood was wrong and promises not to do that again.

Abraham convinces God not to destroy Sodom if there are 10 righteous people there.

We’re not even halfway through Genesis yet.

In the story of the near sacrifice of Isaac, God needs to figure out if he and Abraham trust each other.

There are a couple (at least) ways to think about this test. One is that God already knows the outcome but wants Abraham to know for certain that God is trustworthy. That may be, but wouldn’t the whole of Abraham’s experience with God tell him that? If God already knows the outcome, putting Abraham (and Isaac) through such a test seems cruel and arbitrary.

On the other hand if God doesn’t know what Abraham will do, does that mean that God isn’t in control of the world and of our lives? If God isn’t in control, who is? Or perhaps we might wonder, is anyone in control?

On the other hand, if we have the ability to freely make choices then hasn’t God given up some control?

It is difficult, perhaps impossible for us to know what God knows and doesn’t know, what God controls and doesn’t control. But is it a bad thing if God doesn’t control everything? Perhaps God’s giving up some control a reflection of God’s trust in us? It seems that God wants us to participate freely in God’s plans for the world. For that to happen, God has to allow some space for us to act.

It is a risky thing God does when God shares control with us. There seems to be no end to the ways we can mess things up. The Bible is full of stories where we didn’t keep up our part of the bargain.  Our lives are full of stories where we didn’t keep up our part of the bargain.

We get scared and don’t act. We get cocky and try to control too much. But God doesn’t give up on us. God keeps working with us, encouraging us, guiding us. Sometimes, every now and again, we pay attention and we remember God is present to help us, to work with us, to work through us. So sometimes we can listen and act in harmony with the Spirit. But our actions are never coerced. They are not forced. Does God have a plan for our lives? I think so. Does God force us to participate in that plan? No.

That’s God’s dilemma isn’t it?  God is trustworthy. Us? Not so much.

Bad Behavior, Biblically Speaking

January 25, 2013

Humans, it seems, are in search of perfect role models. We love heroes. In fact, a mere hero isn’t sufficient any more, what we want are superheroes.  And for Christians, where better to find heroes and even superheroes than in the Bible? Except, well, when you actually start looking for superheroes in the Bible, they are hard to find.

In fact, one of the amazing things about the people in the Bible is how human- and by human I mean flawed- people in the Bible are.  You don’t have to read very much or for too long to find people behaving badly. Honestly there’s almost too many examples to choose from. This past week at Westminster Reads we read part of the story of Abram, Sari and Hagar. You can read the story here.

It is a story where absolutely no one behaves well. Hagar, a slave, is “given” to Abram by Sarai. She is given to him for sex, to become pregnant. While this was not uncommon in the ancient world, it was a terrible practice. But becoming pregnant with Abram’s heir does give Hagar some status and some security. It also seems to give Hagar, at least from Sarai’s point of view, an attitude problem.

Sarai thinking she has solved the problem of no heirs discovers this transaction, the “gift” of  her slave to Abram, is more emotionally difficult than she had imagined. She is jealous and upset and acts harshly toward Hagar.

Meanwhile, Abram who in this culture is supposed to be in charge of his wife and her slave shirks his responsibility. He is supposed to keep order and peace in his large family. It appears he doesn’t want to be in the middle of this dispute. We’ve already seen Abram’s tendency to avoid conflict in Genesis 12. Not the most sensitive, empathetic guy in the Ancient Near East.

These are the people God enters into covenant with- prideful, jealous, avoidant, insecure,  abused, and abusing. Yes, Father Abraham and Mother Sarah, these are not the heroes we were looking for.

Never the less, God takes care of each of them and keeps God’s promises to them, regardless of whether they deserve it or not. This is actually one of the big themes of the Bible, God’s steadfast love for all of us- always, no matter what. Notice- not dependent on our behavior, not able to be earned or deserved.

Which makes me wonder why we are so harsh with each other. I’m not suggesting we ignore bad behavior but how should we respond? God doesn’t toss people away after a mistake- or even after a few mistakes, so why do we?

We know we are not supposed to toss people away but we do it anyway, mostly I think, because it is hard work not to do that. Looking at the story of the Flood, I suspect it can be difficult even for God. But God perseveres and so should we.

We’ll keep reading to see how Abram, Sarai, and Hagar and God work this out. And we’ll keep living and see how God works this out with us.

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