Sometimes, I feel a little sorry for Abram. His father started the family wandering around then died, leaving Abram in charge. Then the Lord told Abram to keep wandering, and in fact, wander to places he didn’t know!
All this time, Abram knows he’s getting older, and so is his wife, Sarai. Of course, everybody gets older, so that’s not such a big deal, except they don’t have children. As we remember, childlessness is a big deal in this culture. Economically, children are the pension plan that takes care of people who can’t work anymore.
Spiritually and culturally, your children make sure your part of the story goes on. Just as you have made sure the story of your ancestors continues, so your children will do for you. Unless you don’t have any, like Abram and Sarai, which means your story and your family’s story stops with you, and fades with time until people have to look you up in a scroll just to remember you ever existed.
Abram lives with that reality every day, and this conversation with God brings it home. He has just cooperated with some local tribal chiefs and rulers to help stop an invasion of the area by a foreign king. The king of Sodom, one of the cities saved by Abram’s actions, wants to reward him, but Abram refuses. He does not want any of the local rulers to have even the smallest of claims on him.
God’s then promises Abram that he will be properly rewarded for helping people in need. But Abram wonders what good that will do. Any reward given him will die out with him. It will go to a man named Eliezer of Damascus, the legal heir to all of Abram’s property.
No, God says. Your heir will be of your own body. Look at the stars and count them, if you can. That’s how numerous your descendants will be.
Abram, we’re told, believed God’s promise, and that helped put his relationship with God more on the right footing. Now, what convinced Abram? What helped him believe? What about the sky that night gave him faith God would give him what he promised, in spite of all the reasons he could list that it wouldn’t happen? I’m old. My wife’s old. My nephew’s a twit. My legal heir – a servant – has a cruel joke of a name that translates, “God is my help.”
Look at the stars. Count them, if you can. Did the beauty and majesty of the night sky convince Abram? Did the awesomeness of the space he saw change his mind?
Maybe, but I think we can find more to that if we look. After all, we can see the same night sky and countless other parts of God’s creation we call beautiful. But we also know creation contains ugliness. Like the warthog, for example. Or the poodle.
We know that the world has problems, and not just because people live on it.
Volcanoes erupt. Storms destroy. Earthquakes flatten. The cute and the fluffy become dinner for the sharp-fanged and hungry. If the beauty of creation inspires awe and inspires us to believe in God, what do we do with the ugliness? It’s just as real and just as much a part of that same creation.
What did God want Abram to see when he tried to count the stars? Did he want him to marvel over how many there were? Or did he want him to trust the One who had already counted them?
I believe God wanted Abram to understand something about creation, but not simply that it was big and often beautiful. I believe God wanted Abram to know that God didn’t stop with creation when he made it. He continues to uphold and govern it. It continues to work.
And that may be a message that can bring us to believe, as it did Abram. In spite of all of the ugliness we can find in creation, in spite of all the things that aren’t big and awesome and aren’t beautiful, God continues to work within it. Everything that’s wrong with it doesn’t break it. It continues. Yes, storms destroy, but rain brings life to crops and to creatures. Volcanoes erupt and earthquakes flatten, but the same processes that fuel them also make the earth a planet we can live on.
Did Abram see that no matter what might seem to go wrong, God could still work? No matter how bad things were, God was still present? I think he did. I hope we can, too.