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.
Now these are the generations of Terah. Terah fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran fathered Lot. Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his kindred, in Ur of the Chaldeans. And Abram and Nahor took wives. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and Iscah. Now Sarai was barren; she had no child. Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife, and they went forth together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan, but when they came to Haran, they settled there. The days of Terah were 205 years, and Terah died in Haran.
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Genesis 11:27 – 12:3 | ESV
With the words, “This is the account of Terah” we now embark on the main story. The prelude of Genesis 1-11 is over, the preliminaries finished, the opening overture complete. The curtain has been raised, and now the play commences. The next “book” of Genesis launches the first act of Salvation’s Play, taking us through the story of Abraham (right up through Genesis 22).
For us, the introductory title can be misleading. “This is the account of Terah.” So Terah is the hero! He’s the one who will do it! After all the mess and sin and confusion, he is the one through whom God will bring redemption. He even has three sons just like Adam. Just like Noah. Yes, we recognize this pattern. We have seen this. We then watch Terah move his family, including his son Abram, the one with the barren wife (loser!), and he heads towards what we know is the Promised Land – center stage, yes!
We watch as Terah approaches center stage, poised for what we are sure will be a decisive moment in salvation history…and he dies.
Right before he gets there.
Has the play been stopped?
No, wait. It wasn’t Terah at all. Well, it was, but it wasn’t. It was his son. Which one? The one with the barren wife. The one with no kids. The one with the name filled with bitter irony and pain: Abram. “Exalted Father.” The father with no children. Yes, God says. That’s the one through whom I will do this.
Lekh lekha – Go, Abram, Go.
Journey on to the land I will show you. Nimrod the Rebel thought his name was great; humanity in building their pathetic tower thought they could make their name great, those builders who shall remain unnamed. But I will make your name great. Those who curse you I will curse; those who bless you I will bless. And everyone – every family, every tribe, every clan, every nation, every generation – everyone will be blessed through you.
Lekh lekha – Go, Abram, Go.
Leave the cities of man. Go to the land I will show you. And you will see it all go into motion through each step of faith you take.
Go on, Abram, Go.
And the exalted father with no kids steps onto center stage.
And the journey begins…
What lekh lekha “get going” moment have you faced in your life most recently when you were radically challenged to pick up and go when it really didn’t make much sense? What did you do?
Unseen God, loosen my grip on supposed on safe, secure and oh-so-visible supports and give me the courage to set my foot out the door into the wide world as you summon me to discover my own unseen land over this horizon of faith. Through Christ.
The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd.
By an act of faith, Abraham said yes to God’s call to travel to an unknown place that would become his home. When he left he had no idea where he was going. By an act of faith he lived in the country promised him, lived as a stranger camping in tents. Isaac and Jacob did the same, living under the same promise. Abraham did it by keeping his eye on an unseen city with real, eternal foundations—the City designed and built by God. Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-10 | MSG
For we walk by faith, not by sight. 2 Corinthians 5:7 | ESV
Is it “God is nowhere” or “God is now here”?
How do you read it? What do you see?
Perhaps the answer depends on how hard life is – or how easy. It can be much easier to see the unseen God at a mountaintop retreat than it is in a concentration camp – though, ironically, prisoners in a death camp often end up with the most powerful epiphanies of the divine rather than wealthy vacationers sitting on their exalted balconies.
Hebrews 11 asserts that faith is the lens through which the unseeable is seen. And acted upon. Which is a problem in a pragmatic, “show-me-the-money” age that exalts doubt as the greatest virtue and sees faith as childish or, worse, dangerous; a culture that values “a bird in the hand” over “two in the bush.”
It was to a couple in just such a culture that the invisible God showed up with the life-changing charge to “get up, leave all that you see, all that you know, all that you trust, all that you lean upon, and go to the place I will show you.” This is not just the starting point in the journey of Abraham and Sarah, or even of the grand narrative of redemption and reconciliation that ultimately issues in Christ – it’s the starting point for each of us.
There are two primary ways through which we approach life under the sun: faith or sight. We generally live with a mixture of the two, but one will finally predominate and shape us. We either rest in the security of the seen or we find the handle on what we can’t see. To journey with the great patriarchs and matriarchs in the Genesis story is to see them grapple with the same fundamental quandary we face in our own journey: faith or sight? “God is now here” or “God is nowhere.”
They found the handle on the unseen.
The question is, have we?
G-O-D-I-S-N-O-W-H-E-R-E. Is it “God is nowhere” or “God is now here”? How do you read it?
What do you see in your own life and in the wide world? Just how visible is the invisible God to you?
Unseen God, let me find the handle on the unseen today so that I may truly see – and be utterly changed in the seeing. Through Christ.