Faith and Talking to God
Bible Study: Genesis 15:1-18:15; 21:1-7
What defines a person of faith? One who doesn't question God? One who doesn't doubt? One who trusts God to work things out regardless of how long it takes or how hard it may be? All of these sound like good "Sunday school" responses, but do they accord well with how the Bible depicts persons of faith?
• Renewed promise (Genesis 15:1-6)
In Genesis 15, God spoke to Abram in a vision and said, "Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield, your very great reward" (v. 1). But Abram responded with a question: "What can you give me since I remain childless ... ?" (v. 2). In ancient Israel, childlessness was more than a disappointment; it was a threat to one's future. Children assisted with the flocks and crops, and they took care of their elderly parents. But most importantly, a man lived on through his children--they were his reward. God had told Abram he would become a great nation, but he had no heir, and the future looked bleak.
God answered Abram's question not with a rebuke, but with a promise: Abram would produce an heir--a son of his own flesh (v. 4). When Abram heard this promise, he believed God "and it was credited to him as righteousness." The father of faith (Romans 4:20-22) was going to be a father, but not yet.
• Right time (Genesis 17:17-21)
Sarai was aware of one small problem with God's promise: She was past childbearing years. How could Abram have a child of his own flesh with her? So, she and Abram decided to "help" God fulfill the promise on their terms. Sarai gave Abram her slave woman, Hagar, and Hagar conceived a child of Abram's flesh--Ishmael (Genesis 16).
Abram clearly thought Ishmael was the promised heir, but God had other plans. After changing Abram's name ("exalted father") to Abraham ("father of a multitude"), God also changed Sarai's name ("my princess") to Sarah ("her princess") and told Abraham she would be the mother of his heir (Genesis 17:16). When Abraham heard this, he fell on his face and had a good laugh (v. 17). He pleaded with God to let Ishmael be the heir, since Ishmael was a reality and the possibility of Sarah becoming pregnant was, frankly, inconceivable!
• Real fulfillment (Genesis 21:1-2)
Nevertheless, Sarah later conceived and gave birth to a son. God commanded Abraham to name the child Isaac, which means "laughter." Both Abraham and Sarah had laughed when they heard the impossible promise. Now every time they spoke Isaac's name they would be reminded nothing is inconceivable with God.
Abraham did not become the father of faith because he never questioned or doubted God. On the contrary, his questions and doubts provided fertile ground for God to teach Abraham that the One who promises is faithful and trustworthy. True faith is an ongoing dialogue between a believer and God. It requires a willingness to ask honest questions and admit troublesome doubts, and it inspires the courage to listen when God responds, "Trust Me."
Susan Pigott is professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Hardin-Simmons University’s Logsdon School of Theology.