The book of Genesis presents its readers with characters who are easily criticized, men and women whose actions are far from irreproachable. To look back at the events which took place, the decisions people made, and the results which came from them, the skeptic can easily critique the lives of these biblical characters. In simply looking at Abraham, the dichotomy of faithfulness and faithlessness is evident.
After all, this is the man who answers to resounding “go worth” and leave your home with little hesitation (Gen. 12) and whose providential journey reaches its high point on a mountain with his son in one of the purest expressions of faith we can find (Gen. 22). Yet, it takes no scholar to realize that this is the same man who is introducing his wife as his sister and the man who utilizes the surrogate Hagar, when his patience runs thin. (16)
So what do we have in all these characters?
For Abraham, and those through whom his covenant goes forth, great things surely await. Abraham, after all, has been promised to become “a great nation”. He has been shown the stars and told, “So shall your descendants be,” by God himself. The man was guaranteed “one who will come forth from your own body” as an heir.
Amidst all of this, the blessings, the promises, the voice of God, the families of Genesis continue to struggle with faith in God. It is as if no promise can assure them. No guarantee is quite enough. Note here that the divine will of God prevails regardless. Yet any critic, to be fair, must now be self-reflective.
In these men and women, we find narratives of lives lived out in the most difficult arena of life: the time between promise and fulfillment.
Valuable examples stream through Genesis and beyond of what life looks like after the promise yet awaiting the fulfillment. Indeed, each of us experience such difficulty in one or many ways. Ask the couple recently engaged, the seminarian with a vision for the future, or perhaps the believer who awaits provision. Ask Abraham, the old one to whom a son was promised. Ask the follower of Christ, to whom the Spirit has been given as a guarantee or pledge of “our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession.” (Eph. 1:14)
Victor P. Hamilton, in his Handbook on the Pentateuch, reminds us of the underlying struggle when he writes that “whenever one sees the fruit of God’s promises as something to be achieved rather than received, all sorts of options present themselves.”(p.90)
A struggle with faith and obedience. Responsibility and expectations. Waiting and what assuredly awaits.
Life lived in the moments between promise and fulfillment.
This song, by John Waller, offers a contemporary glance into this same struggle.