After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, for I am your shield; your reward shall be very great … Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.
Genesis 15:1,5-6, NRSV
“He [Abram] believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.” In this phrase is the essence of the beginning of salvation, and of wisdom. Abram earlier in Genesis obeys the call of God, whom he had just encountered possibly for the first time, to “go … to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). He does not question, but leaves his “country”, “kindred”, and “father’s house” to obey this call. In the face of impossible odds (but nothing is truly impossible with God!), the man who would become known as Abraham (“father of a multitude”) chose to believe God’s promise that “though he was too old … [and] as good as dead” (Heb 11:11-12), he might indeed become the “father of a multitude”. Perhaps we might wonder how Abraham even managed to believe God, given his circumstances.
When we look at the promises of God that are given to us regarding the future, we too might have difficulty believing, based on our day-to-day experience of the world. For example, he promises that if we “resist the devil, he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:7-8). Isaiah 26:3 promises that “those of steadfast mind you keep in peace … because they trust in you”. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 21:4). Or perhaps on a global level, what seems even more unbelievable: “It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains … and all the nations shall flow to it … and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths’ ” (Isaiah 2:2-3).
We might wonder, how do we manage to hold fast our faith in light of the immense difficulties, that seem to testify against what God promises? Even Abraham tried to work to achieve God’s promises himself through Ishmael, but that God does not want us to work for his promises, but to believe, faithfully holding fast to the conviction that whatever God says, he will do. What can we do, to serve God faithfully and believe him when it matters?
Jesus said: “For out of the abundance of his heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil” (Matthew 12:34-35). Faithfulness does not come spontaneously out of ourselves, but is something cultivated from consistency in following and surrendering to God. Note that the Pharisees were inconsistent in a different sense when they called Jesus’s exorcism from Beelzebub, but were unable to explain then which power was responsible behind their exorcists. We train ourselves to hear his voice, so that when it comes, our consistent seeking will lead to consistent fruits and treasure, and consistent ability to distinguish our Lord’s voice from Beelzebub’s. We listen to the one who leads us by still waters, and practice obeying him above our own desires, and so build up this good treasure within us.
But to think that this good treasure is built up by our good works would be to commit the same error as the Pharisees did. Indeed, Jesus, when asked by the rich ruler what he must do to inherit eternal life, replied, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone” (Luke 18:19). The ruler did not understand Jesus’s divinity, but we know that, as stated in the Book of Genesis and reiterated by Paul in Romans, that we believe God, and have righteousness imputed to us. We love, and work for the Lord, because he has first loved us and saved us. Our good treasure within in was not built by us, but rather than Jesus, and by our surrendering and getting our selfish wills out of the way for this good work to happen within us.
In this time of Advent (and exams), let us trust in the goodness of the God who dwells within us, and obey the voice of his Spirit. Let consistency in our disciplines and obedience lead to the consistent treasure of experiencing the joy, peace, and love of God, as we believe him and wait for the fulfillment of his promises.
Allen Lai ’20 is a senior in Quincy House studying Chemistry and Physics.