As we continue the series of Lenten reflections, we come to a passage of great hope and promise for everyone. But I noticed a caveat in this passage which is easily passed over. Romans 4:13-25:
13 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.
16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18 In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20 No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” 23 But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.
So what’s the caveat? Having the faith of Abraham is all we need, right? Oh, but how rare it is that we find ourselves in possession of that kind of faith, at least to the extent Abraham held it. I suppose that’s one of the reasons he is cited as the “father” of those who have faith in the promise of God. This is a man who believed even thoughthere were a host of rational reasons in favor of unbelief and few on the side of credulity.
Let’s face it. Most of us have a hard time holding faith at some point or other in the course of life. Every rational instinct in our mind argues against the probability that following God in spite of and in the face of daunting odds will turn out well for us. It happens in business decisions, it happens in career moves, it occurs in the manner in which we conduct our financial affairs and purchasing decisions, in the way we raise our families. There really is a way that seems right. And now and then it will be a way contrary to the one God asks us to walk.
There is some consolation in knowing that even Abraham eventually faltered in his confidence in God’s ability or intention. And God did not abandon the original promise. But oh, what a mess ensued from the sidetrack taken! If the story of Ishmael and Isaac does not deter us from thinking that God will ultimately get what He wants even while we unfaithfully choose what we want, nothing will. And many of us have stories we’d rather not tell in this regard. Yet the final word for today is faith in God’s promise. As Paul will later put it, He is faithful, even when we are faithless. Thanks be to God!