In our adult Sunday School class this past Sunday we finished up a study of the book of Hebrews. Abraham figures prominently in the narrative. He’s held up as one of the heroes of the faith. There’s a verse in scripture about Abram’s obedience that often comes to mind when I think of him. It’s Genesis 12:4: “So Abram left…”
I never cease to wonder when I read of the call of Abraham that he took God so unquestioningly at His word, packed all he owned and moved on from Ur of the Chaldees, a thriving city, one of the oldest in history. Just the thought of crating up our belongings and leaving the only home my family has ever known fills me with distress.
I used to try to rationalize Abraham’s response by telling myself we don’t really know what happened between the lines in Genesis. Maybe Abraham argued with God for a year before he loaded up his “U-Haul ’em” camels and headed out. Or maybe he just happened to lose his cushy job at the Haran Date Canning Company and figured, “What the heck, a change of scene will do me good. Besides, Sarah’s always whining I don’t take her anywhere!” Yeah, I used to rationalize that kind of obedience. That is until we brought Kavitha home.
When she arrived from India, seven-year-old Kavitha spoke no English. Communicating with her was a “creative experiment” at best. One of our first ways of teaching her was through playing games. Kavitha had no illusions about her ability to understand them. She knew she didn’t know how to play Hungry, Hungry Hippo, for example. Consequently, she was very teachable. She never doubted we’d teach her to play correctly. She received instructions easily and was quick to do exactly what we said. Did you catch it? She knew she couldn’t rely on her own experience and knowledge, so, trusting us to teach her, she listened to our directions and followed them.
I believe that’s how it was with Abraham at the beginning of his journey with God. He didn’t speak God’s “language” and he knew it. He had to rely on the One giving the “marching orders.” He “bugged out” (as they say in the army), never doubting God would keep him out of “enemy territory.”
In thinking back to the beginning of my journey with God when everything was fresh and new, there was a time I, too, stood there with Abraham. A time when, if I heard God’s voice it would never have occurred to me to question what He said. I just obeyed. I was sure He was God and was in control. So what happened to me? Why is it I seem to struggle so with obedience now that I’ve supposedly “grown and matured” in the faith? Maybe Kavitha can shed some light here as well.
Once she learned to speak the language, Kavitha was no longer as dependent on us. She began to question everything. “Why can’t I move more than one space?” “Why can’t I pick a card from this pile?” “Why can’t I be first all the time, I’m always the littlest?” Kavitha’s questioning in and of itself wasn’t bad or wrong. In many ways it was healthy and showed she was becoming more secure in her relationship with us.
But on those occasions when we weren’t playing games and just wanted her to obey because we had no idea how to explain the “why” to her (like why she couldn’t just run out in the street without looking — that was a real issue for a while), it made life much more difficult. Especially for her. And sometimes our desires and directions for her life were drowned out by her own often faulty logic.
The sad fact is, I’m no different. Once I began to understand and speak God’s “language” better (started reading the Bible, began to pray daily, etc.), I became more self-confident in my spirituality and less dependent on God. I developed a sense of self-reliance that now hinders my ability not only to obey, but to hear God at all. And without that clear communication, following life’s path is often an exercise in frustration and futility for me. Just as it was for Kavitha.
Sometimes, I feel like my spiritual life is going in circles. I keeping passing Point Defiance in my travels and wondering how in the world I got lost. But I take comfort in knowing it’s not uncommon for folks, like me, to stray from their paths. A quick study of the rest of Abraham’s life is enough to convince me of that.
Because of Abraham’s impatience and dishonesty, the Lord had to rescue him from between “a rock and a hard place” on more than one occasion. And yet despite Abraham’s knack for getting into trouble, God still made him the father of a great nation. Even more important, God still called him His friend. (Is. 41:8; 2 Chron. 20:7; James 2:23)
You see, it wasn’t Abraham’s response to God’s call that was the basis for their relationship. Rather it was the faithful character of the One who called. That’s good news, because the One who called Abraham is the One who still calls us today. And He hasn’t changed. Scripture says He’s the “same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Heb. 13:8)
Well then, maybe there’s still hope that someday people will be able to say of me: “So she left.” If so, you can be sure it will be because of God’s faithfulness, not my shining obedience, because I can’t even climb up on my darn camel, let alone get it headed in the right direction!