Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Genesis 12: Why Abram?

To my mind, there are two big questions that the book of Genesis leaves unanswered. (Okay, so there are about a million, but to say there are just two makes my analysis sound so precise.) The first: Why does God create the universe?

The first few chapters of Genesis go into some detail telling us how we get from "formless void" to light and land and crawling things and people, but the reasons behind this moment of world-making remain a mystery. Is God lonely? Bored? Is our universe just one entry in a huge cosmos-creating competition--like some soap-box derby for pimply, adolescent deities? (And if so, are we winning?)

The other big unanswered Genesis question involves God's relationship with his first business partner, Abram (later Abraham). Biblical scholars are all at a bit of a loss when it comes explaining why God chooses Abram for this role. The passage in which the selection scene plays out is characteristically sparse. However, I've begun to develop a theory; and my answer to this question--Why does God choose Abraham?--is a little mundane. But I think it might also be right.

But before we get to the reason, I suppose I should set the stage. Genesis introduces us to Abram in chapter 11 and describes his initial encounter with God in chapter 12. The opening verses of 12 go like this: "Now the Lord said to Abram, 'Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you.' [...] So Abram went, as the Lord had told him" (12:1-4).

That's it. With only one abrupt word of introduction--"Now"--and with nothing in the way of pleasantries--"Good morning Abram. My name is God. Can I get you a hazelnut latte? And could I tell you about a little business opportunity?"--God says "go." And to our surprise, Abram sets off. With nary so much as a peep.Weird , eh? But why this man? And why "now"? And why does Abram agree? We have no idea.

Well, that's a lie, because we can speculate. Christians and Jews for centuries have suggested that it is Abram's unquestioning willingness--his lightning-fast trust in the deity--that recommends him for enlistment. But this is just speculation--and good guesses are still just guesses. Hence, lately I've been trying to reach for an answer to the question that relies a little more heavily on textual clues.

So here's a little fuller run-down of the situation: Beginning in this crucial moment, God and Abram enter into what comes to be known as a covenantal relationship. As part of this divine-human contract, God promises Abram two things: many many descendants and a place to live. This latter is the oft-mentioned "Promised Land," which will later become Israel.

However, at this point in the tale, we haven't yet arrived in Israel, and frankly, there is no Israel. There's just "Canaan," a narrow strip between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. Not much, but an excellent place to build a few beachfront bungalows for you and your hundreds of thousands of great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren.

And here's where I can explain part of my answer to this question, "Why Abram?" To do so, I need to jump back to the end of the preceding chapter, which tells the story of a little move that Abram's family makes: "Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they went out together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan; but when they came to Haran, they settled there" (11:31).

Did you catch that? Even before God calls Abram and commands him to head for Canaan, Abram's family has already tried to move there. Said differently, it's Abram's earthly father Terah--not his heavenly one--that initially tells Abram to head for the Promised Land. And even though circumstances stall their trip, it's a journey that's already begun.

So when God asks Abram to head Canaan-ward, Abram's kind of already halfway there. It's kind of like if Abram's family planned to move from Boston to New York City and got stuck in New Haven. They might hang around for a little while because the university is so good, but they're always going to think about finishing the trip and settling down in the Big Apple.

Which makes me wonder if God doesn't pick Abram because of his momentum. That is, when God says "Go," Abram's already going. Kinda boring, right? But maybe kinda true, too.

1 comment:

  1. I could see this as being a bit true. As christians we try to figure out everything, instead of trusting and believing GOD. When you have this kind of faith people don't always understand. I believe if we would just be obedient to God, and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit more we would see more of the promises of God in our lives. Abraham trusted God.


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