“Fear not, Abram, I am your shield. Your reward shall be very great.” And Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless?” He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them…so shall your descendents be.”
—Genesis 15:1b, 2a, 5-6
When I am really afraid of something and I’m told, “Don’t worry about it…stop thinking about it,” my fear and anxiety only increase. When I am apprehensive and scared, there are two things that help enormously: One is to talk about my fear with someone who will listen; the other is to be given some sort of sign, or symbol, that I can look to as an indicator that things will be all right.
In the book of Genesis, we meet a marvelous character, Abram (later, Abraham), who is not only the Father of a Great Nation but also a vulnerable, fearful, questioning human being. God has called him and his wife Sarai to leave their homeland and to become together the founders of a new people. They obey, leave home, and journey to the landof Canaan, as instructed. But they have no child; Sarai is barren (Genesis 11:30).
The strength of Abram’s relationship with God in Genesis is borne out by their frequent “conversations.” Clearly, Abram feels free to question, doubt, and express fear directly to God. When God says, “Fear not,” Abram counters with reality: How can my reward (an heir and descendants) be great when I don’t have a child, an heir? This reminds me of Frederick Buechner’s statement: “The opposite of faith is not doubt; it’s apathy.” Abram’s faith is not apathetic; it’s lively and candid.
God gives Abram a sign, something Abram trusts as a symbol of God’s promise: “Look toward heaven and count the stars; so shall your descendents be.” God uses an outward and visible sign in the ordinary world to point Abram toward hope and trust.
In his excellent Genesis commentary, Walter Brueggemann asks, “Is it okay to ask for a sign? Apparently, yes!” Then Brueggemann astutely adds: “The same God who makes stars beyond number can also make a son for this barren family, and we understand no more about one than the other.”
Help us, O God, in the midst of fear, to speak to you from our hearts, and then to look expectantly for a sign that all will be well. Amen.
Copyright © 2010 Margaret Jones.