Romans 4:18-20 18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead– since he was about a hundred years old– and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. 20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God,
Seriously, who doesn’t love Abraham? Everyone loves Abraham, he’s a bit like king David, even those who never would call themselves Christians think that he’s kind of cool. There’s something about Abraham’s story, something extremely profound that seems to speak to every human being.
I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until recently listening to a sermon on Paul’s reflection upon Abraham in Romans 4. Here’s why Abraham is such a tear-jerker of a story: it’s the story of a hopeless man.
Seriously, by logical reckoning he is hopeless.
Now people everywhere talk about hope, but all hope outside of faith has limits. I mean you can hope all you like to be an opera singer, but if you can’t hit a single note, or worse, have a medical condition that prevents the use of your voice, the reality is you’ve got no hope being an opera singer.
I think there are a lot of people who are silently struggling with reality. There are a lot of people who know that logically speaking they have no hope.
Our world is a world that wants to be better but it’s paralyzed by fear. Fear of the truth.
It actually has no hope.
What a terrifying admission to make.
BUT here comes Abraham bursting into the contemporary world a guy with no hope…….who won, who actually had a happy ending.
It’s like he read the rule book of how ‘real life’ works…and then threw it away. He ‘broke the rules’ regarding hope.
In the way that the world views hope there’s two main things that affect the presence of hope 1: what is happening around us (External factors). 2: what is happening inside us (Internal factors).
If one of those things falls away but you’ve got the other, you’ve got hope. This is what happens in most of the ‘inspirational stories’ that society tells; one disappears but the individual uses the other to get it back. For example, let’s say a wealthy, influential person loses everything they own (external circumstance) But somehow manages to gather the internal resources such as determination, intellect and enterprise, to fight their way back up to the top of the business world. Ie: Steve Jobs. Most secular inspirational stories are predicated on the unfounded belief (yes belief) that both spheres of our life are never really completely screwed at the same time.
But that’s not reality.
Real life can, will and does smash you internally and externally at the same time.
Enter Abraham, who has put his hope in the frankly illogical promise that he will have a child, which is a huge deal in his culture even leaving aside the theological implications.
And where your average atheist will say ‘faith comes from ignoring the facts’ that’s not what Abe does:
Romans 4:19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead (internal circumstance)- since he was about a hundred years old– and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. (External circumstance)
Far from ignoring the facts, Abraham fully considers the internal and external circumstances of his situation.
Let’s look at them in reverse order.
External circumstance. Again this one, is the one that most people have no problem with. Our cultural narratives are full of people who rose above the ‘the hand they got dealt’ in life by utilising their talents and gifts, and what a popular narrative it is. It’s why people watch x-factor where the dude next door who struggles with his bills all of a sudden sings his way to fame and fortune. You get the idea.
So here’s Abraham he notices that he has really, really dire circumstances when it comes to the prospect of God’s promise regarding Isaac. Sarah’s womb was dead. That’s remarkably strong language. It doesn’t say that she was post-menopause or ‘getting on a bit’ but that her womb was dead. Abraham looks at his external circumstances for any possibility of hope but finds only death.
This wouldn’t be as much of an emergency however, if internally he was totally good for having kids. In fact this is exactly what happens with Hagar earlier on, where using the world’s reasoning, both Abe and Sarah decide for him to sleep with Hagar to get her pregnant before Abraham himself gets past it.
But now he is past it. In fact, (again it is strong language) but he himself internally is as good as dead.
So let’s summarize in the clearest possible terms. In Abraham’s life right now, concerning this promise, he looks around at his circumstances and sees only death.
Only death. Sometimes life is like that. Sometimes the phrase ‘nothing going right’ is actually not a figure of speech but literally true. But this is the place where explanations of life that leave God out fall flat on their face and biblical faith starts.
Faith, real faith begins in the darkness and believe it or not, grows, like a seed in the darkness of the soil. For Abe considers both sets of circumstances, sees only death and instead of throwing in the towel, he chooses to believe. He considers, then chooses. To Believe. Not because it makes sense at the time, but because God spoke to him. That’s it.
You see at some point, in order to trust God, you have to……trust God! There’s so many people who say things like; ‘I want to believe…but.” Or, “I’d like to trust God….but.” real faith begins when we choose against all circumstances to drop the ‘But’.
Yet the good news is this; it doesn’t matter if you look around and see nothing but death, internally, externally, nothing but death because over and over and over and over again in the lives of real people both in the bible and throughout history; God does his best work when everything looks like it’s going pear shaped.
In fact ironically, if both your internal and external circumstances are completely cactus you are blessed, because you know there’s nothing on this earth worth putting our absolute trust in,…..including yourself. You’ve got nothing to lose, you’re finally ready to trust God.
If you’re in the absolute dark, if you are truly hopeless be encouraged and hope the Lord.
The ‘rest of God’ to be entered into can really be summed up by this attitude: “no matter what is happening around me AND no matter what is even happening within me, God is still in control and he will see me through.”
That, is what to do when you’re hopeless, put your hope in God. You’ve got nothing to loose.