ƒ Christianity for Thinking People: November 2006

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Triumph of Faith

This week we are studying Genesis 20 through to Abraham's death, recorded in Genesis 25:10. We observe Abraham and Sarah getting on with life amongst those who did not know God while also living within a covenant relationship with God. We see them displaying doubt and faith, accommodating themselves to (covenanting with?) the reality of neighbors outside of a covenant with God, and experiencing intra-family conflict of their own making. We see Abraham dealing with the death of his wife and seeking a marriage partner for their son.

As we read of Abraham we are drawn to parallels between:
(a) Abraham dealing with daily life while awaiting the full reality of a covenant fulfilled; and
(b) Us dealing with life, death, faith, fear, conflict, contracting, transacting, marriage, and family estrangement, while awaiting a transcendant reality of open, unending communication and friendship with God.

What, if anything, do we learn from Abraham and Sarah? What do we learn about God?

In the middle of the relatively mundane, Abraham is asked by God to sacrifice his "only son" as a burnt offering. There is much to ponder in this story alone. Clearly, Isaac was not his "only son" since we have just observed God covenanting with Hagar in the previous chapter -- "I will make Ishmael into a great nation". And, we know that God finds child sacrifice to be an abomination (Deut 12:30,31) and that he instructs "Thou shalt not kill".

The story is presented fairly straightforwardly as a test from God that Abraham actually passes. And most sermons and children's books on this story remain at this level of understanding. While this is clearly a correct understanding of the story (Heb 11:17-19), I would encourage you to grapple with this story a little this week and dare to think more expansively about it.

Advanced study: If you have time, look at the parallels between the life of Hagar and that of Moses. We have previously noted parallels between Moses and Christ, but the more you look in the Old Testament, the more you find themes that point our minds to Christ. Here's a place to start -- there is a lot of wandering in the wilderness/desert in the Bible, and Hagar does some wandering in Chapter 20.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Faith and Frailty

This week we are studying Genesis 16 through 19, which covers
* Abram and Sarai
("This is your fault")
* Sarai and Hagar
("Do with her whatever you think best")
* Covenant restated
(Circumcision and the changing of names)
* Abraham entertains angels unawares
(Heb 13:2)
* Bargaining with God
(Reminds us of Moses -- do we really care more about humanity than God does?)
* Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah
(No questions there -- all very straightforward)
* Lot's daughters attempt to maintain the family line
(Can grape juice do that?)

Each story is fascinating, giving rise to many threads of thought and discussion.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Man Abraham

Context is an important part of our study style. Last time we studied Abraham it was in the context of the preceding and subsequent covenants that God made with His people. This time as we study Genesis 11:27 through chapter 15, our context is the Genesis account of creation, the fall, the flood, and the Tower of Babel. When we read God's promise to Abram in Genesis 12:2,

I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you;
I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.

we cannot help but notice that it follows God's specific intervention in human history in response to the men who settled in Babylon. Genesis 11:4,

Come, let us build ourselves a city,
with a tower that reaches to the heavens,
so that we may make a name for ourselves.

In subsequent studies we will read that Abraham will become a great 'name'. Genesis 17:5,6,

your name will be Abraham,
for I have made you a father of many nations.
I will make you very fruitful;
I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you.

As we read through Genesis we cannot help but notice that in one chapter God intervenes to thwart human name-building, and in the next chapter God intervenes to establish a human 'name'. Perhaps the juxtaposing of these two Divine interventions is intentional? Maybe it provides a lesson or two in the principles of the Kingdom of Heaven?

Monday, November 6, 2006

The Earth After the Flood

We continue our discussion of Noah and the Flood, focusing on the second half of the story -- restoration.

Ty Gibson is leading a seminar series in Auckland this week. Last night he spoke on Lucifer and his fall, providing insights into the nature of sin. Over 100 people attended the Monday night meeting in a society where few people show up to church once a week!

Ty's talk made me think of something related to our study this week. Briefly, Ty observed that Lucifer's sin had its origins in replicating what he believed to be the character of God. He believed that God was a glory-seeker, and sought to elevate Himself by seeking His own interests over those of others. He rejected the principle of the 'Kingdom of Heaven' that greatness is found in servanthood.

In the light of these observations, it is interesting to re-read the first part of Genesis 11, where a casual reading might leave us with the impression that God came down to Earth, observed humanity trying to elevate itself, and decided that he had better handicap them before they became his rivals. The very real question raised is whether God sought to maintain His superiority by thwarting human endeavour (note NZ spelling)?

Speaking personally, I think my own answer to the above question comes from asking another question - - In my own experience, when I invite God's guidance and participation in my life, does He seek to thwart or empower my human endeavour?