The Book of Genesis is a book of beginnings, a book of origins. From it we learn the beginning of creation, of humanity, and of the Israelites.

The Israelites originate as a people from the great Old Testament patriarch Abraham and his wife Sarah. Abraham is called forth by God from the life he knew and sets out on a journey that God promises will take him to lands that will become the homeland for his descendants who, God promises, will be a great nation “as numerous as a stars in the heavens.”

In today’s Scripture this promise is literally cut in a sacrifice and becomes a covenant between God and Abraham. A covenant is best understood for our purposes as a relationship, a relationship that goes much deeper than merely a legal contract. The sacrifice indicates the depth of the relationship between God and Abraham; it is a matter of life and death.

In the aftermath of this sacrifice, Abraham has a frightening mystical experience, where God makes his presence known to him, a presence Abraham encounters as a “deep terrifying darkness.”

It is in that terrifying darkness that Abraham comes to terms with the unknowability of God, for the God of the Old Testament is vividly mysterious, an indication that he cannot be confined like the gods of the pagans to a place or manipulated through spells and incantations. The God of the Bible does not need the sacrifices that are offered and it is not our sacrifices or worship that sustain him, as they did the gods of Abraham’s ancestors. Instead, the God of the Bible is the subverter of magic or controlled for our own purposes. His sacrifices are accepted as signs and symbols of the relationship he has with his people, and he needs none of them to be who he is. But we need these sacrifices to remind us who we are, and that there is no true love or relationship without sacrifice. The deep mystery of this God, the one true God, overtakes Abraham with terror.

But this is not the only reason for Abraham’s terror.

Abraham experiences for himself the vulnerability of genuine faith. We Christians too often pay lip service to faith, making it merely an emotional comfort, or using faith as a declaration of our tribal identity. But while comfort might come to us as a result of faith, and faith can and should order our way of life, it is not in the superficiality of our emotions or our identity that makes for authentic faith.

Faith is most raw and real when, like the experience of Abraham, we come to terms with the reality of God rather than the idols of him that we so often create out of our desires and fears. Further, faith is authentic and true when, like Abraham’s faith, it is professed as an act of trust in promises that remain outside of our ability to manipulate or control and that have indefinite and unexpected outcomes.

Faith is not magic; it is not a way of currying favor with God so that we can get what we want. Faith is an expression of our relationship with God, an act of trust, that what he has promised will be fulfilled.

Read more at Word on Fire. 

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