Outrageous Promises

Underlying the whole concept of Covenant is promise. God motivates Abraham by making the promises that launched him on his pilgrimage in 12:1-3. These promises are tailor made for him in his own unique situation, and as we have said before, God made him these promises so that he could be a blessing to the world.

Now these promises have got to be impossible by human standards. By a strange irony, Abram means “exulted father.” For most of his life he carried this name not having any children through his lawful wife. We all know that he allowed Sarai to talk him into taking Hagar so as to produce offspring (chapter 16); the narrative does not condemn him for this outright, but leaves us with the distinct impression that this was not a work of faith. It was when he was 99 years old that God encounters him, changing his name to Abraham (chapter 17). Abraham means “father of a multitude.” This is even more absurd than his first name considering the fact that his only offspring was a son through his wife’s maid. Think how this went over with his relatives and friends! Then God tells him the impossible, the unthinkable; Sarah will bear a son! Abraham, standing before God Almighty, falls on his face before him, not in worship, but laughing in disbelief (17:17). Sarah was more discreet, laughing to herself behind the door. When confronted, she denied it. God countered, “No, but you did laugh” (18:9-15). The child was to be named “Laughter” (i.e. Isaac).

Promises have to be impossible so that it is clear that only God can perform them. They have to be tailor made because every soul is different, and every soul must be courted uniquely. Like Abraham, Christians are placed on this planet with a special calling, to accomplish something that is far beyond their natural abilities, and something that must be worked out supernaturally. These outrageous promises are the product of divine encounters that can take on a myriad of forms, some subtle like a gentle nudging of the soul, some dramatic like visions. These promises set the soul on fire, and set one on a journey like Abraham. Though it may take years to see the fruition of these promises, by the end we see that it was God, and only God, that worked in our lives supernaturally. What is more, though promises made when we are young are interpreted one way, we find in the end that they are fulfilled in ways far beyond anything we may once have thought. So it was with Joseph and his dreams; he had no idea the journey he would have to take, nor the strange and wonderful way they were fulfilled. Most often, it takes years, perhaps vast swaths of a lifetime of waiting, to see their fulfillment. Promises have to age in our souls so as to maturate our faith.

There are different kinds of faith. We are to believe certain things about God as revealed in Scripture that we must all believe as a united body of believers. This is doctrinal faith. We are also to believe the general promises that God makes to all believers, that He will provide for us, protect us, save us, etc. Then there is the faith we are talking about here, personal promises uniquely fitted for us that propel us on a journey and stir our souls with the impossible. They give us a sense of purpose and place us in the broad context of God’s overarching plan of re-creation. Abraham is unique as a historical individual with a unique role in God’s plan, but he is also a type of every man, every woman of faith. If God cannot be to us as He was to Abraham, then what are we supposed to do with these stories?

I do believe that because so much of the Church is ignorant of this last kind of faith that faith seems so weak and lack-luster in our midst. Faith is understood mostly in terms of initial salvation, maintenance, and survival. Perhaps it is safe for us this way. We do not want to lose control, to set out into regions unknown, or to wait patiently on outrageous promises designed to thrust us into the supernatural.

2 Responses to “Outrageous Promises”

  1. Fr. John,

    I find it interesting that upon reflection how much of what happens in our lifetime can only be described as Divine intervention.

    Joe

  2. Joe, I know that in the end when all is revealed that I will be pleasantly surprised at just how much divine intervention there was in my life on a daily basis. Sometimes it is obvious, but much of the time it lies hidden from us.

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