Yahweh was on a mission. He set out to upend man’s age-old approach to knowing and relating to Him. Then, and even now, gods and humans had a top-down relationship. They’re up there somewhere, wherever, and we are down here, placating and supplicating. We gave and they accepted and they gave also and we’re impacted. It was mainly transactional. Besides the few employed in their services as priests and oracles, we were not of much value.
Then entered the One who delegates his authority to humans and honoured their choices,1Genesis 2:19 who visited folks in their gardens2Genesis 3:8 and invites3Isaiah 1:18 and welcomes their opinions4Genesis 18:19. His name is Yahweh.
He also goes by a host of nomenclature. He is as he does. At any given time he’s a father, mother, husband, judge, saviour, shield, benefactor – name it, and he’s it. We see in him the causeless cause of all there is and the source of all we are and will be. So we give him honour, glory and adoration. He is indeed deserving of all that and more. But there are also times that he wants neither offerings nor sacrifices, the pomp nor the pageantry. There are times he wants simply to be a friend.
Much of our experience of God draw on our needs, rather than his desire for a fellowship with us. And our engagements with him are shaped by cultures founded on a mixed bag of beliefs, rather than the revelation he gave of himself.
There are times when God wants simply to be a friend.
So he decided to affect the way we approach him in a most profound way. For this purpose he needed a partner. He invited Abraham to come along on this adventure.
Until the call of Abraham, humans seemed to believe that the best way to honour God was to abase ourselves. This tendency was perhaps best articulated by Socrates at his trial for heresy in 399 B.C. Socrates was asked why he considered himself the wisest person in Athens. Socrates said it was because he alone recognised that human wisdom was of no value compared with divine wisdom. That sentiment enjoys much sympathy in all ages. In calling Abraham, God set to work to deal a blow to Socrates’ genuflecting.
In the book of Isaiah 41:8, God referred to Abraham as his friend. It implies a linear relationship, not a top-down or a bottom-up relationship. It speaks to companionship, mutuality of affection, kindness, empathy, sympathy, respect, loyalty, understanding and compassion. It was a revolutionary way to approach a relationship between a human being and divinity.
To underscore this dynamic, the Lord gave us a window on his musings. He had heard terrible stuff about folks down in Sodom and Gomorrah. He was going on a visit to that city to see if the report checked out. If it did, Sodom and Gomorrah would be toast. But then, the Lord mused out loud enough for us to be engaged:
“Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do”5Genesis 18:17
“Hide from Abraham”? How about “Is it any of Abraham’s business?” Or, “What has a mortal to do in matters of divine prerogative”?
But God’s not done making his statement. He goaded Abraham into a proper chinwag. He told Abraham about his mission to Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham was not impressed, and he voiced his displeasure in a way no human had ever been recorded talking to God. Having spelt out the injustice that might ensue in the project God was about to undertake, he asked:
“…Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?”6Genesis 18:26
Abraham disagreed, challenged and encouraged God to be the best version of the Godhead.
Now St Paul took exception to that sort of effrontery. How dare anyone challenge divine prerogative. In Romans 9:11-14 he hung a disturbing theology on God and, realising how controversial his treatise was, decided to fence it about with theodicy:
“Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?”7Romans 20:9
This is St Paul’s Hellenist education conflicting with his Jewish faith education. Anyone who’s read Habakkuk8Habakkuk 1:13-17 would know where to toss that argument. It’s that sort of doctrine that God set to shoot down by his friendship with Abraham.
In calling God “the judge of all the earth”, Abraham showed that he had not forgotten the phenomenon with whom he interacted. But that didn’t stop him from disagreeing, challenging and encouraging God to be the best version of the Godhead. That is what friends do.
Being omniscient and all, God knew that Abraham’s intercession was futile. Sodom and Gomorrah was rotten beyond redemption.9Genesis 19:4-5 But God allowed Abraham to have his say, he showed a willingness to yield to Abraham’s position, were the situation in Sodom as Abraham hoped they were. God was sensitive to Abraham’s passion because that’s what friends do.
God has had all manner of relationships with humans. We are told that he spoke face to face with Moses and even showed Moses a similitude of himself, but Moses was always ‘my servant’.10Numbers 12:6-8 We are told that he loved David and adopted him as his first born 11Psalm 89:26. But no relationship has been as consequential as the one with Abraham.
Just as God occupies several positions in our lives, Abraham demonstrated that we too are able to relate to God at several levels.
All that God has done through and with the monotheistic faiths has been in keeping with the promises, commitments and covenants that God made to and with Abraham. About half of the world’s population, covering about 87 per cent of the world’s land area are Christians and Muslims,12https://www.uwyo.edu/uw/news/2015/08/uw-religion-today-the-triumph-of-abrahamic-monotheism.html two of the three monotheistic religions. These claim filial and, or, spiritual connection to Abraham. That is an achievement considering the man did not build a church, mosque or synagogue. He did not have a congregation or proselytize. Nonetheless, over four billion people spread across the globe call upon his God! That is a consequential friendship.
When setting up a model for the sort of relationship for us to aspire to, it wasn’t the relationship he had with David, Moses, the priests or prophets that was idealised; it was the Abrahamic model:
“Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the LORD: look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged. Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you: for I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him.”13Isaiah 51:1-2
All this is not to suggest that Abraham didn’t revere God. He did. And he submitted to God in ways that took God’s breath away. As St Paul wrote:
“Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.141 Corinthians 10:11
Just as God occupies several positions in our lives, Abraham demonstrated that we too are able to relate to God at several levels. It is not an invitation to be irreverent towards God, but to work towards a sincere relationship. We are his children, his friends and sounding boards. Our feelings count. Our thoughts and ideas are of great value. We could be consequential.
|↑14||1 Corinthians 10:11|