Lent 2 Genesis 15:1-18
After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”
But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.
Then he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.” But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him. Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know this for certain, that your offspring shall be aliens in a land that is not theirs, and shall be slaves there, and they shall be oppressed for four hundred years; but I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for yourself, you shall go to your ancestors in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation; for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”
When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates,”
"Doubt everything. Find your own light," said Gautama Buddha.
Abram and Sarai experienced infertility. Which, given their elderly age, wasn’t surprising. God consoles Abram, telling him he will have an heir. Abram believes God and God reckons it to him as righteousness. But then immediately Abram begins to doubt, yet again. The thing is, Abram had already been appraised as righteous. By my estimation this means that in the ensuing time of doubt Abram is still an honorable and upright man. Yes, that’s right, righteousness and doubt go hand in hand here.
Could this be a story conveying the virtue of doubt?
Virtue, meaning “conformity to a standard of right.” Abram’s doubt makes him like each and every one of us. It is standard and right that we should doubt when faced with sorrow and hardship. As Paul Tillich said, "Doubt isn't the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith."
God remains with Abram. Not only the first time Abram doubts, but the second time too. As a darkness descends on Abram he is terrified, and then God offers a prophetic message in what appears to be a night dream. In this message God tells Abram his descendents will suffer for four hundred years, but God promises to deliver them, eventually. In the darkness God affirms what Abram may have already sensed: there will be more sorrow in his life, and lots and lots of peace. And throughout it all God will be with him.
This is a story, it seems to me, which affirms how doubt is woven into every experience of faith. God is in our darkest moments, as surely as God is with us in our peaceful, glorious ones too.
A couple of Sundays ago the intern at the local Lutheran church called the children forward for the children’s message. A gaggle of children huddled around her as she presented a shoebox wrapped in purple paper. The intern told the children it was time to put the “Alleluia” away for Lent. But first they had to shout it together.
“Let’s shout the Alleluia! Come on kids, do it with me.”
A timid shout of “Alleluia!” came from the huddle.
“OK. You can do better than that, let’s do it again!”
This time the congregation joined in, and together, they let out a hearty “Alleluia!”
As the intern caught her breath a little boy asked, “But what if we don’t feel like it?”
She looked at him aghast. “What?”
“What if we don’t feel like shouting Alleluia?”
She fumbled for words, mumbling something incoherent, and then moved directly to the prayer.
She passed right over him and missed the gospel this little boy had the courage to speak. What a shame.
Because he was right. Sometimes we don’t feel like shouting Alleluia. In fact, some days we are plagued by doubt and feel darkness descending upon us. Grace comes not in overcoming our doubt but in loving ourselves in the midst of it, just as God loved Abram through his. And not only loved him, but reckoned it to him as righteousness.
I wish the intern had turned to the little boy and said, “If you don't feel like shouting Alleluia, don't. God loves you all the same."
How are you finding your own light these days?