Abraham is held up in Scripture as one of the prime examples of faith. God made many promises to this man and it seemed as though none of them would be fulfilled. The promise of a son was the cardinal promise. The creation of a great nation, the acquisition of land, and the hope of blessing the world were connected to and contingent upon this promise (Gen 12:1-3). Yet, it seemed an impossible promise. A barren woman and an old man would surely render it impotent. The whole thing was laughable to Sarah (Gen 18:9-15). But God is the master of the absurd. He delights to turn the impossible inside out. He calls us to believe him in the midst of circumstances that would persuade us otherwise. As he called Abraham and Sarah to faith, so he calls us. Faith is the laughter of trust in the face of the ridiculous. This faith is a movement away from ourselves toward God. In faith we despair of ourselves, our understanding, and our capacity. In faith we press toward the God of the promise. We cast ourselves on him and leave the impossibility of his promises to him.
Walter Brueggemann in his Theology of the Old Testament does a great job explaining this dynamic. He sees the story of Abraham as a paradigm of faith for the rest of Israel. “All of these promises of Yahweh, of every sort, on every subject, intend that Israel should not surrender its life or its destiny to the present circumstance, especially when that present circumstance is deathly and appears insurmountable. Thus this odd testimony of Israel puts forth a theological claim that is profoundly subversive of the present. Israel has known ever since the barrenness of Sarah, that there is deep incongruity between the intention of Yahweh and the circumstance of lived experience. Israel, in the face of that incongruity, did not have many alternatives. It could accept the circumstance of its life as the true state of reality—thus for example, Sarah is barren and then the promise is voided within one generation. The alternative, Israel’s chosen one in most seasons, is to rely on Yahweh’s oath as a resolve to override circumstance, so that it is the promise and not the circumstance that tells the truth about reality. In this theological intentionality, Israel embraces this uttered testimony as the true version of its life”
I really appreciate the last few sentences of this paragraph. Especially the phrase: “it is the promise and not the circumstances that tells the truth about reality.” This is an excellent way to describe the challenge of faith. The circumstances of life are so often contrary to the promises of God that we are easily led to believe that they are the final reality. Faith refuses circumstance the final word. Faith seeks out the promise, educates itself in it, clings to it, and conquers the present circumstance through it. Faith does not deny the the dissonance between the present reality and the promise. It lives in that tension affirming the certainty of the promise and leaving its fulfillment to the timing of God. As he says, faith is subversive of the present. It gives the promise more ultimate validity than the present circumstance staring it in the face.