absurdity at each step | Genesis 12.4-9
So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land.
Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord. And Abram journeyed on, still going toward the Negeb.
Genesis 12:4-9 | ESV
“Is there a man who travels without knowing to what destination he travels? A journey without apparent destination: absurdity at each step. The midrash gives us mocking voices that weave through Abram’s consciousness as he travels: ‘Look at this old man! Traveling through the country, looking like a madman!’” ~ Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg
Absurdity at each step.
Yes, that pretty well captures this journey of faith. It just makes no sense. Abram’s setting out in obedience to God’s “Lekh lekha” (translation: GET GOING!) marks the first time in the Genesis story a journey is taken not as a punishment or exile (Adam and Eve setting out from the garden, Cain setting out for the land of Nod, Babel’s builders scattering to the ends of the earth) but as a response to “a divine imperative that articulates and emphasizes displacement as its crucial experience” (Zornberg, again).
There is a radical displacement at the heart of all real faith.
Far from hunkering down into a bunker, faith flings us out into the world. And as we are flung, we will encounter absurdity at each step. Abram and Sarah boarded a plane with no clear destination – it will land somewhere! Absurd divine travel agent. But at least they got to pack – Jesus didn’t even let the twelve disciples do that.
You get a sense of Abram and Sarah setting out, heading this way, and then that, wondering, “So is this the place? Or how about this?” “God made me wander from my father’s house,” Abraham says, years later (Genesis 20:13). And so he wandered from place to place, “not knowing where he was going.” Until the invisible God appeared, revealing not only himself but this place as the destination, and for the first time he builds an altar, sacramentally marking the spot.
The rest of his life will be spent wandering about this land building altars and digging wells (though there would be at least one significant detour), an exalted father with no children passing through the property of others as a homeless man claiming his non-existent kids would one day own it all. Yes, absurdity at each step.
Perhaps it should give us pause if we are commended at each turn for our wise and considered steps, if no one ever yells at us, “Look at that old man! Traveling through the country, looking like a madman!”
For faith is spelled “r-i-s-k” and its surname is “absurdity.”
When is the last time someone called you “mad” because of your faith? What is the difference between the “absurdity” of faith and true folly and madness? How do you personally and practically balance this all out in your own walk of faith?
Unseen God, let me not fear being thought a fool and absurd for stepping out in faith when you call; teach me the difference between the “folly” of faith that risks it all, and my own foolish presumptions. Give me the boldness to take some really absurd steps with you today. Through Christ.