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#014: Faith is Hard—and May Sometimes Sound Stupid
The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, or the Eighth Sunday after Trinity (Proper 14)
Readings: Gen 15:1-6; Hebrew 11:1-16; Luke 12:32-40
In the 2021 movie Don’t Look Up, low-level astronomers Kate Dibiasky and Dr. Randall Mindy (played by Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio) discover with pinpoint accuracy that a comet is about to hit the earth. This is a gigantic piece of rock that contact with our planet would leave no trace of life down here.
For the next few months, Ms. Dibiasky and Dr. Mindy embark on a journey to help save the planet. From the president to popular TV shows, no one believes them. In fact, on one talk show, they make fun of the comet and the astronomers’ claims. In the end, nothing is done about the comet mainly because the whole claim of an earth-obliterating piece of rock is less believable than flying elephants.
Faith is so hard—and sometimes stupid—because it invites us to trust in things our minds cannot conceive. If you lived on the north pole and someone told you that the sun is hot, you would believe them because, even if the solar rays never get to you, your eyes have seen the sun. That proposition is believable.
However, the idea that life will be ended by a terrestrial piece of rubble that no one sees, or feels is different, and outrageous territory altogether.
The same can be said of the promise to a 99-year-old man that he and his wife would one day have a son (Gen 15:4). That statement is a mockery of the entire enterprise of biology. These things are reserved for dramatic works of fiction where the only life they have is the imagination in the head of the person making them up. However, when they are spoken by someone considered to be authoritatively believable, like God, they sound like a terrible divine joke. No wonder Abram falls to the ground and starts laughing (Gen 17:17), even his wife (Gen 18:9-12).
It seems God does his best work in the divine comedy club.
What prompts Yahweh’s promise to Abram and Sarai is another promise which God makes to Abraham (Abram at this point):
“Go out from your country, your relatives, and your father’s household
to the land that I will show you.
Then I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you,
and I will make your name great,
so that you will exemplify divine blessing. (Gen 12:2-3)
In the Ancient Near-Eastern tradition, land required heirs, for the simple reason that it was generational. It was never for the individual. But Abraham had no heir to whom he would leave this promised land. This is the source of his disbelieving protest to God (see Gen 15:2-3) and God’s outrageous promise (vv 4-5).
This passage also gives us some insight into what faith is. Faith may be functionally hard, but it's definitionally easy. To have faith in something is to trust in that thing, simple. Abram’s faith, therefore, required him to agree with God; to trust his Word.
The major concern with trusting God is that we become the butt of the divine joke. But that is because we love control and are unwilling to relinquish it. Yet, faith by its nature is an invitation to take a ride in God’s self-driven car. Faith is also not some kind of work for which we can congratulate ourselves. The hard work of faith is to sit freely in the passenger seat of the car and allow the driver to take charge. Even firing up Google Maps on your phone is not allowed. It is work-less.
In v 6, God reckons Abram as righteous. This is a pregnant verse. It is important, first, to note what this verse does not mean. It does not mean that trust is a form of work for which God rewards us with righteousness.
In Romans 4, Paul discusses this very verse. Relying on the language in the verse to make his point, he notes that if you work, “…wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation” (v 4). His point is that if you work, you are deservedly paid a wage but when something is credited, or reckoned to you, it means you did not work for it. It’s a gift, not a wage. He goes on to show that trust (read: faith) is not a work. “However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness” (v 5, emphasis mine).
Now, what does Gen 15:6 mean? In the text we just looked at above, Paul shows us that righteousness is not some payment we earn after putting in a shift. It is rather a gift God gives. It is declarative—that is—God decides to call us righteous based on his work for us. See what Paul says in Romans 4:23-25:
“The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” (Emphasis added)
So, we are called into a life of trust. Sin is an attempt to control what can only be in the control of God. Racism, sexism, xenophobia, political imprisonment, torture, slander, and all those measures we employ to gain a footing over others are attempts at control. To trust, however, is to relinquish that control, to be vulnerable. We cannot receive the gifts of God if our hands are full of the earthly junk, we have spent our lives here gathering (see Luke 12:32-34).
Yes, sometimes your faith will look foolish, but didn’t Paul say that “the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God?”
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,