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Sunday, November 22, 2015

Coming Up Short

When Abraham left Ur of the Chaldeans, it doesn’t say that he took his father, but that his father Terah took him.

We don’t get an exact age for Terah at the time he and his family left Ur with the intention of moving to Canaan, but he had to be at least 100 years old, and possibly quite a bit older than that. The first leg of the trip was about 600 miles, give or take, starting in what is today Iraq. The family presumably followed the Euphrates north and west up into present-day Turkey about 10 miles north of the Syrian border. They stopped short of their goal in a place called Haran. That wasn’t the original plan, but that’s what happened.

I may have it all wrong, but I suspect the problem was Abraham’s dad.

Priorities, Priorities

Stephen’s account in Acts tells us that the move to Canaan was not originally Terah’s idea. God appeared to Abraham in Mesopotamia, Stephen says, meaning all the way back in Ur. So maybe Abraham said, “Dad, God’s calling me and I have to go”, and Terah, being the head of the family, granted permission to his son on the condition he come along and run the show, as patriarchs in those days were inclined to do, no matter the age of their children.

In any case, when Terah stopped moving, Abraham stopped moving too. It’s possible it was getting harder for Terah to travel, or that Terah’s willingness to play along with his son’s vision petered out after 600 miles, but whatever the reason, they came to a spot about halfway to their goal and stopped short, and they stayed there until Terah died.

It appears they were in Haran for quite some time.

Possessions Gathered, People Acquired

There may well have been incentives to stay put beyond duty to family or whatever else may have motivated Abraham. Scripture says that in Haran they had “gathered possessions” and “acquired people”. They had put down roots. Haran was apparently a comfortable place, and if it had not been for the direct command of God to Abraham, maybe they would even have stayed put.

After all, word out of Canaan may have suggested that their ultimate destination had considerably less appeal.

The End of the Road

In contrast to the comfort and comparative safety of Haran, when Abraham finally journeyed to Canaan, not only were the idolatrous and frequently violent Canaanites in the land, but there was also a severe famine and he ended up heading down to Egypt to ride it out, where he immediately got into trouble.

All to say, while Abraham certainly obeyed the call of God, he appears to have done so intermittently and often at his own convenience.

The View from Eternity

Now, for a moment, contrast this boots-on-the-ground, practical dissection of a faith that let itself be slowed down, diverted by family obligations, seduced by the comforts of the world and disrupted on multiple occasions with the Heaven’s-eye view of the writer to the Hebrews:
“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.”
Where are all the caveats and disclaimers? Where’s the list of things Abraham did wrong? (If we continued reading the historical account of his life and choices dispassionately laid out in Genesis, we’d find the ‘failures’ column getting a lot longer.) Frankly, if I were Abraham and got a look at this particular report card, I’d be tickled pink. It would not be the way I’d have reported my experience or characterized my own stumbling, erratic faith.

Waiting for the Report Card

Maybe, like Abraham, you and I have not always walked worthy of the call of God. Maybe we’ve been a little too slow to respond. Maybe we’ve used our family responsibilities as an excuse for doing what’s actually easier for us, or made comfort or practicality the standards by which we decide how surrendered to the will of God we’d like to be at any particular point in time.

Maybe we came up short. Maybe we still do.

Like Peter’s encapsulation of Lot’s experience in Sodom, I find the Hebrews view of Abraham comforting. God, who knew Abraham’s failings far better than he did — and who knows my failures far better than I do — seems to be very generous with his assessments. God sees Abraham’s motive and his hope, not just his inconsistent and often self-interested actions.

Is it crazy to hope that my selfishness, my insensitivity, my skewed priorities and my fear will, like Abraham’s, evaporate forever in the fiery gaze of the Righteous Judge, leaving behind only the things of eternal import?

I’d like to think so. I wouldn’t want to come up short.

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