As we saw yesterday, Paul says that Abraham, our prototype of faith, staggered not (or “wavered not”) at the promise of God (Rom. 4:20). However, when we read the Old Testament, it certainly seems as if he staggered and wavered. Twice he lied about Sarah being his sister in order to protect himself. And he also committed immorality with his servant.
In each of these incidents it looks very much like Abraham staggered. So how can Paul say he staggered not?
There are two ways of looking at this. The first is to say that Abraham was too much like Jacob. Hebrews tells us that Jacob was a believer who valued the Gospel promise and God’s blessing. However he repeatedly sought it the wrong way. Similarly it could be argued that we can preserve the unstaggering nature of Abraham’s faith by saying that even in his sin, he was seeking the fulfillment of the promise. He was sinning in a good cause – the pursuit of the blessing of the world!
Another way of looking at this, and the right way I believe, is to look at Abraham’s life as a whole. Although Abraham stumbled in a few incidents, and stumbled badly, the general tenor of his life was of unstaggering faith.
Flip-flop or slip-up
Perhaps some of our politicians might serve as good examples. One of the most devastating critiques that can be made of a politicians, as John Kerry found out in 2004, and as Mitty Romney is in the process of finding out, is that they’re a “flip-flopper.” A flip-flopper is someone whose whole life was going in one direction (liberal views on social issues, the role of government, etc.) when running for one office in one place, only then to go completely in the opposite direction (conservative views on social issues, etc), when running for another office in another place. No one likes a flip-flopper.
But there’s a difference between being a flip-flopper and making a few verbal stumbles about your policies under pressurized questioning. All politicians have slip-ups, but they don’t constitute the general direction of his policies and principles.
I’m proposing that we should view Abraham’s sins as “slip-ups” rather than “flip-flops.” They were stumbles (albeit very serious one) under huge pressure, but they did not constitute a total change of direction in his life.
Social and spiritual pressure
We have to remember the pressure Abraham was under. God had given him a new name “Abraham” meaning “Father of multitudes.” Can you imagine what that was like? When he met other nomads, or entered a city, and they asked his name, he would have to reply, “Father of multitudes.” “Oh, really!” they would reply, “How many children do you have?” “Well. None yet!” “None yet! You’re in your nineties!” and so on. What a social pressure.
But what a spiritual pressure too. Abraham’s whole salvation rested on him having a child. Without a child, there could be no blessing for him or the nations. Without the nation-blessing child there would be no crushing of the serpent’s head. Without that devil-defeating child, there was no salvation for Abraham or anyone. This wasn’t about wanting to be a daddy. This was a deep, deep struggle upon which his own and the nations’ salvation rested.
No wonder he stumbled a couple of times. And what an encouragement his stumbles are too, if I may say so. If Abraham was a perfect prototype, he wouldn’t be much help to the rest of us believers who have rolled off the assembly line of faith in subsequent years. He’s a great example of faith, but he’s also a great encouragement to belivers who have stumbled. Faith does not need to be perfect to save. But our faith must be in a perfect Someone to save us.