• Steven Marsh

Learning–Faith Leads to Understanding: a Reflection on Genesis 17:1-7, 15-17 and Romans 4:13-1

During Lent, we are not to rush to Easter from our regular and everyday experiences. Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “Instead, we are invited to spend forty days examining the nature of our covenant with God. Upon what does that relationship depend?”[1]  At this moment, you will either use faith to lead to understanding or insist on understanding to lead to faith. Which approach do you use to sort things out? Thinking leads to learning, which leads to becoming. Are you on the journey of thinking, learning, and becoming? That journey demonstrates us being the best neighbors. John Piper, the author of Think, writes, “Thinking is indispensable on the path to passion for God.”[2]

I’m convinced that faith leads to understanding. By placing your faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, there are the benefits you’ll receive. When Jesus spoke of the abundant life, he was referencing the things that God would do in the present for the believer. Eternal life was always a primary issue with secondary application in Jesus’ teaching. This is an important observation that followers of Jesus need to keep in mind. The Christian faith is not one, directly, for tomorrow. It is a faith with relevance for today.

God does work for us and wants to do things for us. Genesis 17:1-7, 15-17 demonstrates that God promised to do things for Abraham.  It was God, the Creator, who decided to tell Abraham who he was to become, leaving behind who he once was. God wants to work for you and for me. Let’s unpack the “I am” of verse one and the “I wills” of verses 2-7, 15-17. We need first to see who God is and then discover what God will do.

Verse 1, The “I am.” Abram was ninety-nine years old and God revealed God’s own self to Abram by saying, “I am God Almighty.” The Hebrew, el shaddai, is usually translated “God Almighty.” Not much more to say than that. In Abram’s world, a world of many gods and traditions, the God of the Scriptures was revealing God’s own self as the God of all gods. The name “God Almighty” is profound. The verb “to be” leading up to the name is even more significant. The verb “to be” used here is the same verb form used in the story of the burning bush in Exodus when God tells Moses God’s name is “I am who I am.” Genesis 17:1 is significant in that the concept of God and religion is clarified for Abram and his culture. The Hebrew God was differentiating God’s own self from all other gods by stating that the “I am” was God. In a pluralistic society like that of Abram’s day, much like our day, the absolute claim made by God here is quite striking. Abram was told that “I am” was his God and that “I am” wanted him to walk with God and to be blameless.

Verses 2-8, the “I Wills.” In Genesis 17:2-8 there is a series of seven “I will” statements. These are the things that God will do for Abram. These “I will” statements are promises from God for Abram, promises that only God can do and fulfill. There is nothing that Abram can do to make these promises happen. There is nothing about Abram that warranted God making these promises. The seven “I wills” are: I will make my covenant between me and you; I will make you exceedingly numerous; I will make you exceedingly fruitful; I will make nations of you; I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring throughout their generations; I will give you and your offspring the land; I will be the God of the people of that land. God made a series of seven promises to Abram that only God could do. All Abraham had to do was to exercise faith. Abram heard God’s call and responded in faith. Abraham left the security of the known and obeyed God’s call to go to a land unknown and yet to be seen. The journey of faith, leading to understanding, began. And the journey was messy. Abraham stepped out in faith and followed God in faith.

The “I am” will do the “I wills” for you. Faith leads to understanding. Believing the promise first leads to understanding the promise. Yes, it is only by faith in God that you can then grow in understanding how much you are loved by God and that God has a purpose for your life. Yes, you! Believe that God loves you. In Jesus Christ, God answers your questions along the way of the journey. Again, John Piper writes on how exercising faith leads to understanding, “Asking questions is the key to understanding.”[3]

Faith leads to understanding. Romans 4:20-22 reads, “No distrust made him [Abraham] waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Therefore his faith ‘was reckoned to him as righteousness.’” God calls you and me, just like Abraham, to be courageous and takes risks, rather than living a futile and immobile life trying not to make mistakes.[4] Mary Oliver articulates the power of faith leading to understanding in her poem, “The World I Live In”:

I have refused to live

locked in the orderly house of

reasons and proofs.

The world I live in and believe in

is wider than that. And anyway,

what’s wrong with Maybe?

You wouldn’t believe what once or

twice I have seen. I’ll just

tell you this:

only if there are angels in your head will you

ever, possibly, see one.[5]

Give yourself to Jesus Christ. Place your faith in God, the One who does what God’s own self promises. You will begin the journey of understanding.

[1]Barbara Brown Taylor in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word Year B, Volume 2 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 55.

[2]John Piper, Think (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2010), 27.

[3]John Piper, Think (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2010), 48.

[4]My thinking has been impacted by Jeff Paschal in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word Year B, Volume 2, 67.

[5]Mary Oliver, Devotions (New York City, New York: Penguin Press, 2017), 5.

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