Søren Kierkegaard used to intimidate me. In truth, he still does. He’s a daunting figure, both prolific in output and profound in thought. I viewed him as part of an undefined group of unapproachables, authors whose work lies beyond the scope of my ability to comprehend. But one of the joys of research is that you get to engage formidable thinkers and grapple with their work, approaching the unapproachables to learn their secrets. This semester, I spent some time researching Kierkegaard’s thought surrounding his book Fear and Trembling, and I was indeed challenged academically. However, the more I studied, the more I found myself challenged spiritually as well.
Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Abram received an incredible promise from God, one that would affect not just his own family but families for generations to come. His offspring (as yet unseen) would become a people who would one day introduce the Savior to the world. Through Abram, all people would be blessed.
And Abram trusted God. “And he went out,” as the author of Hebrews writes, “not knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8). We remember Abram as a man of great faith, and rightly so. Abram’s faith becomes a key component of Paul’s argument in Romans, showing righteousness to be counted to people on the basis of God’s promise rather than on the basis of human accomplishment (Romans 4). Abram sets a positive example for us in many respects. But we would do well to remember that he remains a human like us.
Just a few verses later, we see him seemingly forget the promises of God. When he and his wife entered Egypt, he feared that the Egyptians would recognize his wife’s beauty and would kill him to have her, so he devised a lie. Though God promised to bless him, to make him a great nation, and to lead him, Abram seemed to forget such promises in the face of danger. Between the promise and the fulfillment stood a period of testing, a time when fear entered the picture and challenged the faith of the servant.
Abram’s story here isn’t unique. He’d be tested again, both in the waiting between the promise of Isaac and Isaac’s birth as well as in the call to sacrifice Isaac, the child of promise, on the mountain in Moriah. And Abram isn’t alone in his experiences. The people of Israel (descendants of Abram) react in terror at the approach of the Egyptian army after being saved by God from slavery through mighty deeds which show Egypt to be powerless before the Almighty. Elijah despairs at Jezebel’s threats almost immediately after watching God prove himself as sovereign over the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18-19). Throughout Scripture, God’s people see him move, hear his promises, and then tremble before temporary challenges.
We aren’t that different from them. We too have promises of God. He promises to provide for our needs as we seek first his kingdom and righteousness, leaving us no reason to worry (Matthew 6:25-34). “I am with you always,” says Jesus, “even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Paul writes, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Further, we know that nothing, “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). We can trust that “he who began a good work in you will bring it completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). We can count our trials as joy because God is using them for our growth, and we can ask God for wisdom in faith that he will give it (James 1:2-8). We know he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). We know he forgives us (1 John 1:9).
We have all these promises and more in the Bible, truths recorded for our faith. And though some promises are for the present moment, many pertain to the future, to the enduring hold of God upon his people. This means that we don’t always see how he’ll fulfill his promises to us, and we can be tempted to forget the unseen God before seen threats. We fear for our safety when we observe the dangers around us. We worry in the face of uncertainties. We fret when we feel our weaknesses. In short, we struggle to live in faith in spite of the ways we’ve seen God move.
I don’t do this well. I doubt far more often than I trust. Trials tend to show my weakness of faith rather than my strength. But I want to get better at this. God is trustworthy, and he deserves more credit than we often give him. So I pray that we would fear and love him more than we fear and love anything else. I pray our certainty of his goodness would remain in every circumstance. And I pray that as we walk between the promise and the fulfillment, we would walk by faith and not by sight. May he be pleased by our faith in him.
Thank to Richard for his suggestions for points in today’s post.
“I don’t have peace” may be four of the most frustrating, painful, and beautiful words you can say in the context of discerning God’s will for your life.
Over the last few years, I’ve heard a number of people emphasize the importance of self care. The idea used to be foreign to me, yet I’ve come to see that self care is a key factor in how many people schedule their time. And for good reason. Continue reading
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in [pursuit] of a [seminary education] must be in want of a wife.”
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (slightly adjusted)
After asking for some suggestions for blog post topics, I was asked if I would respond to the question, “Is social justice a gospel issue?” I pray the following simple thoughts will contribute to a biblical answer to that question and will serve you well.
I read Paul’s promise that God causes all things to work together for good for his people, and I think of Joseph. He recognized God’s divine purposes at work throughout the evil actions of his brothers, and, in so doing, he became a living example of the truth Paul later proclaims (Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28). No act, however evil, can thwart God’s sovereign purpose; he can use “all things” (Romans 8:28). When I consider this truth, I tend to associate the promise with the externals of life, which leaves me to wonder if the promise also rings true for the internals. I know God works through even the vilest of events which afflict us; does he work through our sorrow as well?
In 1741, Jonathan Edwards preached a sermon entitled “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” to a congregation in Enfield, Connecticut. He had preached this sermon previously to his own congregation in Northampton, Massachusetts, where the message was received with little response. But when he preached in Enfield, where men of faith had been praying steadfastly, God moved in the building in almost tangible ways. People learned to fear the Lord, and lives were forever changed. But before the good news of the Gospel could take hold, the people had to be broken by the bad news. And the bad news was very bad.
Here’s the setting: You’re sitting in a restaurant with your friends enjoying dinner. This is one of those restaurants that offers complimentary ice cream cones after every meal, and the ice cream machine has been getting a steady stream of traffic since you sat down. As you watch, kids all across the building scarf down their food with enthusiasm before turning (with mouths still full of their last bites) to their parents to get permission to go get ice cream. The kids can hardly stay in their chairs, hopping down and running to the ice cream machine as soon as they get the go ahead. You watch as little boys and girls figure out just how high they can get their soft serve to go on their little cones, and you laugh as the once clean faces are now being painted with vanilla. But then you notice one little boy crying.