I am fascinated by a story told in the Biblical book of Genesis about a man named Abraham. Abraham is a big-time Bible Hero. The Bible calls him “blessed” and a “blessing” to the world. He is acknowledged by Muslims, Christians, and Jews as the father of their religion. What made him special was his trust in God, a day to day faith that was a fine example of what God looks for in people.
The story that fascinates me, however, undercuts a lot of that good press. It’s actually two stories and I’ll summarize them this way: At least twice that we know of this “Hero of Faith” did something very nasty to his wife, Sarah. Traveling in a foreign land he passed her off as his sister concealing the fact that they were married. Sarah was beautiful and Abraham was afraid that someone might take advantage of his vulnerability as a traveler among strangers by hurting or killing him in order to seize her as their own.
In doing that he had sunk about as low as you can go. He had exposed his wife to sexual assault and even trafficking. In fact, he himself basically pimped her. He let one man bind his “sister” into a harem never raising his voice on her behalf. I expect that most women partnered with a jerk like that would ditch him fast. It’s a sordid tale made terrible by the fact that this is Abraham, the man acknowledged as patriarch by all the major religions of the western world. What are we to make of a story like this?
When you read a story in the Bible (or any book for that matter) you always have to ask yourself one question: Why was this or that scene written? Authors and editors know that every scene must serve a purpose or else it must be excised. These two stories are in the Bible (though many might wish they weren’t) because they teach a lesson.
When I see Abraham, a man of unquestionable faith, driven by fear and anxiety to do self- serving things I see a magnified version of myself. Like Abraham I trust God – I really do – or at least I try. And I do a pretty good job of it as long as things are moving along easy. But the moment things go sideways like I start bleeding at dialysis or my prosthetic foot isn’t fitting like it should, all that trust quickly dissolves into despair and depression worthy of an atheist.
These stories remind me that faith is an attitude tested daily. It passes some tests and fails others. That’s just how it is. But even the biggest fail doesn’t mean that God has rejected me. Like Abraham, I still count in God’s sight as a man of faith. All I need to do is calm down and remind myself that the Lord, who I really do trust, is still with me. When I do that I do not find that the presenting problem suddenly vanishes. But I do find that my fear and depression is replaced by the confidence I need to deal creatively with the problem.