Yesterday, we saw how the Lord's seven promises to Abraham were really just one promise, the same promise again and again in response to (or in solicitation of) Abraham's faithfulness. And I confessed that I would probably find this frustrating, as I think that most of us would.
If God is going to ask us to take bolder and bolder steps of faith, shouldn't His promises also grow? Shouldn't we get more in return for our obedience? When we look at Abraham, we see a man who first left his homeland, then circumcised his entire household, then laid his only son on an altar, knife in hand. But the promise of God does not seem to reflect the increasing difficulty of these acts of faithfulness; he receives the same word on the mountain as he did in his father's house.
And even as it seems he is pushing closer and closer to the promised land, his life does not seem to look any more at all like his promised life.
But herein lie two truths of the Christian life that are essential, and in the right heart, perhaps this soothes the ache of the longing heart just a bit.
First, it is proof conclusive that grace comes by faith, not by works. The one thing that is consistent across Abraham's circumstances is his faith. That faith looks different at every step of his journey, but God's promise does not waver depending on the difficulty of one step over another. Abraham's only choice is faith or no faith, go or don't go, do or don't do. There is a consistent, faithful promise for saying yes; there is, we can assume, an emptiness to saying no.
That means Abraham was never bargaining with God. That means Abraham was never calculating faith. That means Abraham was not considering risks and rewards, trying to figure out how much faith he had to have to get what he wanted. There was no increasing offer on the table. It was yes or no, stay or go, blessed or not blessed. That's it.
In a world in which we so easily quantify our decisions, thinking that surely some must be more monumental than others, this can often slip right past us. We want to think that doing x is greater than doing y and therefore is a greater sign of faithfulness, but that's just not the case. In Abraham's story, leaving home was as much an act of faith as tying Isaac to the altar. Yes - really. In our own lives, running a cash register at the local convenience store can be as much an act of faith as becoming a missionary to some far corner of the globe, if that is what God has so called us to do. So in Abraham, we learn to stop quantifying our acts so much.
It's yes or no. Faith or doubt. That's it.
Second, it shows us that we really do have a God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The God in Abraham's story is consistent. We see this, if we're paying attention, in the way that this God shows up again and again, but we see it most loudly in His consistent promise - you will be a nation; you will live in this land; your descendants will be countless. No matter what the man does, this is the word of the Lord. And it's unchanging.
Even though this is what seems to be frustrating, having a God whose promise doesn't seem to grow with our faithfulness, this is actually a great comfort our God offers to us. He is of single mind, and that single mind is one focused on bringing us into deeper relationship with Him. That's it. He won't be sidetracked. He won't be deterred. He won't be measured. The promise of God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, whether we leave home, circumcise our households, or lay our own sons on the altar. Our yes is echoed in His yes, His quiet little yes that never changes.
I like that about Him.
And these two truths - that grace comes by faith, not by works, and that God is faithful to His promise - help me to see Abraham's story in a different light. Frustrating? Yeah, still a little bit frustrating. But I like it anyway.