By faith, Abraham when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. -Hebrews 11:8
Every once in a while I spend my morning with the old devotional classic, Streams in the Desert, by L.B. Cowman. With the exception of the poems there, which are often a throwback to the cheesy sentimentality of a different age, I often find its reflections both an encouraging and realistic account of the Christian life. Which, as the book admits, is often one of walking “in the dark” and muddling our way through the wilderness, so to speak- not knowing where you’re going but trusting that God is your trustworthy companion.
Today’s reflection is a reminder of this. So much of life is spent in this existential space of “not knowing where we’re going.” Even if in one arena of our life we may have it together or know our destination, there’s usually at any given time a whole other realm in which we feel paralyzed by indecision or confusion, or unable to see the way forward.
Any manner of things can conspire to ruin our vision, but usually it involves pain and suffering of some sort. When we’re discouraged, afraid, lonely or depressed or in a place of temptation or great stress, our own hearts can, as 1 John instructs, “condemn” us. They can blind us to the reality of a God who is with us and holds out God’s very best for us.
And maybe it is precisely in these spaces that God seeks to give us faith. Not faith in our ultimate destination, but faith in God’s very Self to carry us through when we can’t see where we’re going. In this sense, the more “lost” we may feel, the better: it means that we have more opportunities to find our home in the One who travels with us; to wake up to and become conscious of the love of One who is closer than our breath. When we’re lost like this, it matters less where we’re going than who we’re traveling with, and that we’re willing to keep putting one foot in front of the other regardless of how lost we may feel.
I take heart in the reminder that Abraham, the so-called “father of faith” in the Judeo-Christian tradition, hadn’t a clue where he was going, either. He got so lost in places that he even outsourced his wife not just once but twice to powerful men; took a mistress whom he then literally dumped; and managed to sire a son of his own in his geriatric years, only to then almost kill him. How’s that for dysfunctional?
In all of that, Hebrews tells us that Abraham managed to keep believing that God was with him and carrying him through. That, I think, is the qualitative distinction between one who “believes” and one who doesn’t. Most of us regardless of our creed will lose our way, often more than once in this life. When we keep believing in these hard places that God is with us- despite our mess-ups, blindness and blunders- we make a pretty radical claim about the nature of reality. Because a God who is “with us” is also, implicitly, calling us to God’s very Self and the inherent richness and purpose of a life in Him.