Abe was the first guy to relate to God by faith (as opposed to Adam and company, who went for walks with God, and didn’t really need faith). Abe’s made it, by now, into the history books as The Father of Our Faith.
But it’s the story of Abe’s bride, Sarah, that inspires me today, though I’ll confess it’s from an odd perspective.
In Genesis 18, God promises Abe & Sarah, now old enough to be grandparents or great-grandparents, that they’d have a child, a son, next year. Abraham was a hundred years old; Sarah was ninety. There aren’t a lot of ninety year old women having babies even today with all the miracles of modern medicine.
No wonder Sarah laughed. (“Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, “After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” ” Genesis 18:12. Apparently, by now they weren’t even doing the “pleasurable” things you do to get kids.)
Now here’s where it gets really interesting to me: God calls out Sarah for laughing at his promise (even though she only “laughed within herself”) and reaffirms the promise. And the best part (v15): Sarah lies to God about it “I did not laugh.” God, who apparently likes truth, called her on it again.
The story moves on to other interesting things, like God submitting his plans to Abraham, but that’s the part that caught my attention: Sarah essentially calls God a liar, and then when she’s exposed, she lies to his face. “Nope. Not me!”
Now skip ahead a couple of thousand years, to Hebrews 11, the “Hall of Faith.” These are the Heroes Of Faith, the great men and women that God holds up as examples of how to believe God. And Sarah is there! But this time, the story is told from God’s point of view:
“And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.” (Hebrews 11:11-12)
From Sarah’s perspective (and from Moses’ perspective, as he wrote the book), Sarah appears to have called God a liar, surely didn’t believe him, and then flat-out lied to him, to protect her reputation (or Abe’s).
And God calls that an act of faith. God sees that as “considering God faithful” and believing the promise. God apparently, from the phrase “and so” in v12, considers Sarah’s mighty faith to be the foundational reason that there was an Isaac and a Jacob and the Children of Israel.
If Sarah had been as full of unbelief as she sure looks like in Genesis 18, and as it appears she thought she was herself, then the story would stop right there. There’d never be anybody to Exodus out of Egypt, no Joshua, no David, and no Jesus.
So it occurs to me that we have kind of a messed up definition of what “faith” actually means. Read Hebrews 11 again, and read it carefully. These are not people that we’d normally consider giants of faith, at least not until Hebrews identifies them for us.
Noah, says Hebrews, “condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.” No he didn’t! He built a thing called a”boat” in a desert to preserve his family from some strange event that the Voice called a “flood.” He did it to save his life!
Moses “refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.” No he didn’t! He fled for his life, afraid the Egyptian cops would have heard about his murder when he tried to help an unfortunate slave out.
This is what sticks out to me: faith – real faith – doesn’t very often look heroic. There aren’t movie cameras rolling, and audiences watching as we Do The Mighty Deeds Of Faith.
That’s NOT at all what God refers to in his only chapter about Faith in the entire book.
Real faith seems to come with knocking knees, sweaty armpits and perhaps soiled undershorts. Real faith appears to sometimes be accompanied by laughing at God’s promises, doing stupid things for reasons you don’t understand, even screwing up in your good ideas of helping unfortunate people.
Here’s my takeaway: I’m going to try to not laugh at God so much anymore. But if I do, I’m not going to beat myself up over it. And if I feel really stupid for following a hunch, or for fowling up a good idea, I’m not going to beat myself up over those either.
And I’m going to try to not give up on God’s promises when it looks like there isn’t a chance in the world of them happening.
Just maybe, God’s writing those stories in his Book.
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