By faith Abraham…obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. (Hebrews 11:8, NIV)
“Even though he did not know where he was going”? Where is the logic in this? It seems like the stereotypical definition of “blind faith” -- the sort of thing that makes a non-believer roll their eyes. Why on earth would you obey a God Who didn’t feel the need to let you in on the end goal? We would never accept this arrangement with a professor, boss, or partner. “Just trust me, do what I say, go where I tell you, and I’ll work out the rest.” Yes, but… could I please sneak a peek at the itinerary?
God had promised Abraham a future that made no sense, seemed impossible, and required him to pack up and leave everything and everyone he had ever known. Couldn’t God just bless him right where he was? There are other instances in the Bible where God seems to pour blessings into someone’s lap. Why require so much from Abraham? Is God a generous Father, or a grasping, stingy dictator who demands blind obedience in return for precarious rewards? If He is the latter, then no thank you. But if He is the former, why the apparent secrecy? What is the benefit of obedience when what we are being asked to do seems pointless or even impossible?
First, and most importantly, we have to believe that God’s intentions are good. If the One asking us to trust is untrustworthy, what is the point? If the One requiring us to obey doesn’t love us fiercely, then what is our obedience worth? The mistake we frequently make is this: we expect God’s goodness to show up in certain and specific ways, and when it doesn’t, all bets are off.
I go to church every week, I tithe and serve, and You let me lose my job?
I do my best to be a faithful spouse, yet when trust and hearts are broken, You can’t repair my marriage?
I give almost everything I own away to those who need it, and You let my child die?
I obey all the rules, and You allow me to live with this chronic illness?
I cling to my sobriety by what appears to be the most fragile of threads, and You won’t remove these cravings for me?
God, You need to show up and do what You promised, or I’m out.
I wonder if this is when God leans close and whispers, “I didn’t promise that you wouldn’t hurt. I promised I’d never leave you, no matter how bad the hurt gets.” Unfortunately, this isn’t the answer I usually want. I want security, relationships, success, health, comforts…. Wouldn’t a good Father give me all those things so I could be happy? Sometimes He sends a blessing so immense and lovely that I am overwhelmed by His kindness toward me. Other times, when my obedience yields little or no reward, I cease to feel the warmth of His affection. One feels good, the other bad. Somewhere along the way, I have learned to resign God’s goodness to how I am feeling.
In Genesis 12, God called Abraham to leave the world as he knew it behind. Chapters later, after much loss, suffering, and broken family relationships, God pulls back the curtain, just a little. “He [God] took him outside and said, ‘Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.’ Then He said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ Abraham believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:5-6, NIV).
Come again? Abraham was a very old man. Why wouldn’t God simply bless him with a large family when he was young and healthy, in the land where he was already living? Why did God require his obedience? Over and over again in scripture, we hear God saying that if we love Him, we will obey Him. By nature, we push back on this concept. Like children, we fail to see the benefit of obedience, unless there is an obvious payoff. And yet, when our kids trust in our love and goodness enough to obey us without demanding some reward, we are blessed. Our love for our children overflows, and their submission to our trustworthy authority brings joy to our hearts.
And so it is with our heavenly Father. We are swept over by the deluge of His love for us. However, when we are called to do what is difficult, or fail to see the recompense for our service to Him, we struggle to perceive His faithfulness and love. We equate His goodness with our own happiness. Or at least, I do.
Along with countless other “heroes of the faith”, Abraham never fully inherited God’s promises to him. “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth” (Hebrews 11:13, NIV).
What does it all mean? There must be something within the obedience that matters. God “credited it to Abraham as righteousness”, meaning that Abraham’s trusting obedience was the reward. Did God fulfill His promises? Absolutely. But Abraham would never entirely see that in his lifetime. Our humanity craves instant gratification. Our pride demands that God give us “a good life” in return for services rendered. In the process, we miss out on the gift of faith. The opportunity to trust God, regardless of what our eyes can see, is a victory and a blessing within itself.
Working hard, with no promise of promotion.
Choosing to love the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40) in our lives.
Attending the meetings.
Doing the steps.
Forgiving without demanding an apology.
Being humble enough to recognize our own need for that same forgiveness.
Remaining faithful, when our partner doesn’t deserve it.
Not cutting corners, when everyone else seems to be doing just that.
Telling the truth in love, regardless of the personal risk.
Celebrating the healthy successes of those whom we tend to envy.
Defending the defenseless and being a voice for the marginalized, without needing a camera to snapshot our “virtue”.
Spending time in the dirt with our kids, knowing that this season won’t always be available to us.
Crying out to God in our gratitudes and in our griefs, believing that He values them equally.
Taking the opportunity to learn about and love who God is, for His sake, not for what He can do for us.
Believing that our trusting obedience to God, even when we do not know where we are going, and even though we may never see its culmination in our lifetime, will result in His deepest joy, and in a sky full of stars of which we could never know the number.
Lord, help me to remember that obedience to You, regardless of the earthly outcome, is more valuable than I can comprehend. Remind me, even when it is the most difficult to believe, that the journey of trusting You is my true reward.
Sometimes I think of Abraham
How one star he saw had been lit for me
He was a stranger in this land
And I am that, no less than he
And on this road to righteousness
Sometimes the climb can be so steep
I may falter in my steps
But never beyond Your reach 1
1 Rich Mullins. “Sometimes By Step.” The World As Best As I Remember It, Vol. 2, Reunion, 1993.
~ Sam Jenkins