The God of Oppotunity
Have you ever noticed that God offers new beginnings time after time? God is ever-patient with each and everyone of us, and God offers us a new chance as often as we need it. It’s part of the reason why so many people are drawn to the love of God–because his mercies are new every morning (and even every moment, if we will but take the time to notice).
For this month of January, a month every year where we typically reflect on new opportunities and chances to work on self improvement, I will be taking us through several key characters in the story of Scripture to learn how God offers us new opportunities. We will explore Abraham, Moses, Mary, and Peter each week, respectively, paying special attention to both well-known and slightly more obscure moments where God provides second chances. And so now, let us turn our attention to the person of Abraham.
Abraham’s (originally Abram) story begins as the biblical narrative moves out of the pre-historical events of the flood and the tower of Babel in Genesis 11. Abram and his wider family are living in Ur, but then move to settle in Canaan–what will one day become the Promised Land. However, famine strikes just a few short verses later, and Abram and his family journey to Egypt seeking and finding relief. However, it is here in Egypt that we encounter the first of two very bizarre and similar stories.
Take a moment to read Genesis 12:10-20.
It is a very unusual deception, and even more unusual because Abraham repeats this ruse in Genesis 20 (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, I suppose).
Abram/Abraham, like all the rest of us, is a very complicated person, and his actions can be judged, but not fully known or understood, especially with about 4,000 years distance between us and him. What seems clear here, though, is that Abram views this as a necessity to survive. He believes that if he goes to Egypt with his wife as her husband, everyone there will find her beautiful and kill him so that they can wed her instead. However, if he goes as her brother (which is not technically a lie–family trees were a bit complicated at this time and culturally it was not looked upon with the same level of scrutiny or taboo as this kind of relationship would be seen today), he could survive.
And again, I repeat, this is a crazy story! Because it works! Twice!
Abram/Abraham leaves both situations not only unscathed, but he profits from it! He gains wealth and servants, flocks and cattle, his wife and his life. If you are Abraham, things have turned out pretty well for you, at least on paper.
But it is at this point that we must remember that this is not a story about Abraham. This is a story about God and God’s creation, and God still has a very important role to play in Abraham’s story.
Woven throughout Abraham’s entire narrative are promises that God makes to this specific person and to this specific family about how they will change the world. They will be a blessing to the entire cosmos–to all of history! But, Abraham has just gambled on the promise of God. Because it is through him and his wife, Sarah, that the promises are given in chapters 12, 15, and 17. And here is Abraham gambling those promises in Egypt first and then in Gerar in chapter 20.
Of course, we also have the more well known story in chapter 16 of Abraham and Hagar, where Abraham and Sarah attempt to fulfill the promises through Hagar.
And so, here is my question: Why does God choose Abraham?
And even further: After God chooses Abraham, and sees these three examples of Abraham risking the promises that God has made, why does God stick with Abraham?
The answer, while possibly more complicated this, at least must include the foundational truth that God will always offer second chances. And third. And fourth. Remember that Jesus, when asked if we ought to forgive someone 7 times said that we should not forgive them just 7 times but 490 times. Basically, Jesus took our scale and said we are thinking much too small. We must think about forgiveness and new beginnings on a larger scale, after all that is what our God does. Because this is a God of new beginnings.
And so today, and this month, as we reflect on how we might set goals for ourselves, make resolutions, and the like. Remember that the God that we worship is a God of new beginnings. Today is one. Tomorrow will be another. May we take every opportunity to use our new beginnings wisely. May we honor God with each second, third, fourth, and four-hundred-ninetieth chance.