- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Some time passed. One day, the word of the Eternal One came to Abram through a vision--a kind of waking dream. Do not be afraid, Abram. I am always your shield and protector. Your reward for loyalty and trust will be immense. Eternal Lord, what could You possibly give to me that would make that much of a difference in my life? After all, I am still childless, and Eliezer of Damascus stands to inherit all I own. Since You have not given me the gift of children, my only heir will be one of the servants born in my household. Immediately the word of the Eternal One came to him. No, Abram, this man will not be your heir. No one but your very own child will be an heir for you. God took him outside to show him something. Look up at the stars, and try to count them all if you can. There are too many to count! Your descendants will be as many as the stars. Abram believed God and trusted in His promises, so God counted it to his favor as righteousness.
- Genesis 15:1-6 (The Voice)
I think I really began to understand the nature of biblical covenant when I was in graduate school. No offence to my professors, but I didn’t learn it in a seminar; and while I read several books each week, I didn’t glean this understanding from a book. it became clear to me in a conversation with a friend. It’s that simple.
Let me set the stage. I was going through a particularly difficult time with my faith. There was so much I couldn’t make sense of; so much I found hard to believe; and I found myself skeptical of and painfully doubting much of the foundation of faith. I happened to mention this painful experience to a friend, who gave me his advice. If your faith is causing you so much stress, he said, why not just abandon it, just forget all about it? But what about the commitment I have made to God? I responded. I’ll never forget what he said next. It’s just a commitment, an agreement, and all you have to do is change your mind.
Was it that easy? Could I really abandon my faith at a moment’s notice? That’s when it hit me; I couldn’t just change my mind and leave my faith behind. With my commitment I had entered into a covenant with God, and one can’t just walk away from a covenant. I had entered into a relationship with God and, thus, was bound to God. I couldn’t let go of the covenant, because it wouldn’t let go of me. I could abuse it, I could be unfaithful to it, I could even try to hide from it. But none of that would make it go away.
Abram went through much the same thing in today’s reading from Genesis 15. He was skeptical, and doubted God’s ability to do anything for him. It had gotten dark in Abram’s spirit – the proverbial dark night of the soul - but God knew something he didn’t; something well expressed by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.”
I take this to mean that when we wrestle honestly and deeply with our doubts, fears, and skepticism; when we own them and trust God despite their best efforts to foil faith; God invites us outside to see a glorious sight; all the stars in the heavens sharing their grace and beauty with us. All the stars in the heavens revealing the promise of covenant, God’s faithful love and care.
We will take a closer look at the covenant between Abram and God on Sunday morning – its challenges and promises – and I hope you will plan to join us at 8:30 or 10:30.