Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Abraham, the friend of God

I'll try to keep this one brief because of time constraints, but God spoke to me recently about Abraham. The chief phrase that came to my mind is, Abraham is a friend of God.

Abraham lived in a time before the bible was written, in a life completely devoid of Judeo-Christian traditions, churches, denominations, etc. The only pattern of worship or prayer he had ever seen was essentially pagan in nature (that is, polytheistic and possibly tribal in nature; nothing like modern Christianity). So I was absolutely fascinated to see how Abraham relates to God, because Abraham as the "father of the faith" lived an Adam-like life of breaking new ground, being the first in a new tradition. Unlike Adam though, we are given numerous accounts from his life, whereas Adam has almost nothing written about his life (he appears in Genesis 2 and is dead by Genesis 5, while Abraham has about 13 chapters devoted to his life from Genesis 12 to 25).

So Abraham is a great person to study to see how a man ascribed as a great man of faith relates to God, without the influence of hollow religious traditions in the same way that modern Christians have to discern between things from God and meaningless Christian traditions. Of course, I'm not trying to say that all traditions are meaningless or negative, but simply that one must practice discernment to see where traditions truly represent the nature and will of God, and where traditions come from human or political origins. E.g., is a given tradition one that was put into place to build a political system or to perpetuate human systems, or to establish the kingdom of God on earth and in that culture?

One example of a human tradition would be the biblical interpretations of Noah's cursing Ham/Canaan as a justification of Europeans enslaving Africans. It was a theological position used to justify a human, economic system that does not represent God's will. Over time, it hybridized Christianity with the economic system of slavery, such that even to this day atheists or skeptics will quote slavery as an example of the failings of Christianity.

Anyway, what does one see in the life of Abraham that speaks of his faith? One thing is clear, he builds a lot of altars. He sees God frequently, and he speaks with God face to face. He honored God when the Lord visited him with two angels, and then he petitioned God, face to face, to spare Sodom and Gomorrah if there were 10 righteous men there. All of these deserve long discussions, but I don't have the time.

What I was thinking about tonight was Abraham's affair with Hagar. It is a very perplexing event to me, for a couple reasons. First, God never speaks for nor against Abraham's relationship with Hagar. Nowhere in scripture does it say that Abraham did well or sinned by his relationship with Hagar. We know that the child of the promise is Isaac, but God blesses Ishmael. That's perhaps what perplexes me the most, because we know that in the beginning God created Adam and Eve, so God did not intend for a man to have more than one wife, but he nevertheless blessed Ishmael.

What I see when I think of this is a very complex social situation. People will argue that Abraham sinned or that he didn't sin, but what's clear to me is that it's a very difficult situation, as the outcome shows. It leads to strife between Hagar and Sarah, it leads Sarah to accuse Abraham of doing wrong (even though it was her idea), and ultimately it leads to Hagar's expulsion from Abraham's camp. After that, the Ishmaelites occasionally collide with the Israelites, and the Ishmaelites are described as being "wild", and "against everyone". So the end result seems to be a lot of strife, and God is involved in almost a neutral position (he blesses Ishmael, he blesses Isaac).

So what I see when I read this is, Abraham's heart towards God never waivered. In the midst of this difficult situation, trying to fulfill a promise of God (you will have a son) by human means (sleeping with Hagar), God still blesses Ishmael, and he blesses Abraham to still have the son of the promise. Abraham was not in an easy situation but in his heart he stayed true to God.

God bless you (the reader), and may you be filled with wisdom and understanding about this topic.

1 comment:

John said...

Very Interesting. So if we accept that God didn't want people having intercourse out of wedlock (though the instruction didn't come until later in the Bible, but God also asked Abraham to have a child that he could only have by having intercourse out of wedlock, then should we conclude that God was expecting Abraham to use his judgment as to reconcile the conflicting instructions in a manner most consistent with honoring God? This notion of somewhat of a partnership between Abraham and God fascinates me.