Tuesday, March 11
The Apostle Paul in the New Testament looks back at the Old Testament figure of Abraham as the original example of what it means to live by “faith”. Late into middle age Abraham (who at this point in the story we are about to read is still known as “Abram”) along with his wife Sarah are called by God to leave their familiar homeland and go on a journey to an altogether unknown territory.
Abram and Sarah had been promised by God two things: first, that even though Sarah’s womb has been barren late into life she will give birth to a son. And second, that they will be given a homeland for their descendants to live in.
They trust the promises of God and leave behind all that is familiar to them. We pick up the story after they’ve been on the road quite a while and things haven’t gone particularly well. Abram has begun to experiences doubts.
After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”
But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”
And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.”
But the word of the LORD came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.”
He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”
And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.
The first thing to note is that the guy in the Bible most associated with possessing the quality of “faith” struggled at times with feelings of hopelessness just like we do. Perhaps we can take comfort by this fact in our times of struggle and doubt – this is simply a part of what it means to be a human being.
Our tendency when an emotion comes upon us – in this case, feelings of hopelessness and despair – is to feel as if we have become the emotion. It is as if the emotion takes us hostage.
But in reality emotions come and go, and part of what faith involves is coming to a place of wisdom that recognizes we are deeper than our times of darkness. We learn to say to ourselves, “Yes, I have felt this before, and from past experience I know that in time this feeling will pass. Simply because I am experiencing the emotion of hopelessness does not mean that I have lost my faith. My faith is simply dormant at the moment.” In making such a declaration, we claim a greater inner freedom.
Apparently Abram is inside his tent when God appears to him in the vision in which Abram pours out his despair. God leads him out into the darkness of the night and has Abram look up at the stars. In contemplating the wonder of a night’s sky, Abram is invited to ponder the “big picture” – the opposite of the little picture our momentary emotional state allows us to see. The problems of the present moment seem less oppressive.
What is the big picture of your life? How do you take a step back to ponder the bigger picture when the little picture is oppressive?
Where would you say that God is leading you?