Genesis 15: Living In The Fog of Uncertainty

Genesis 15:6-16

6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

7 He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

8 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

9 So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.

12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

The Paralysis of Uncertainty

Every crossroad is embedded with a cross. We all experience forks in the road, tough decisions required of us that seemingly determine the rest of our lives. What’s worse is that sometimes a crossroad or fork isn’t the best way to describe it, because where the road splits actually ends up being a sixteen exit ramps going in different cardinal directions. Having many choices may at face value seem like freedom, but ask someone who doesn’t regularly do the grocery shopping to pick out one brand of toothpaste at the store and they will quickly find out that unless they randomly choose the first that they see, the choice is not so simple.

Coupled with this is the uncertainty of what lays down the road of any particular path. Does one path lead into a pit or valley? How does each path fair should a storm blow over in our journey? We weigh our options too by worrying about how paths will serve us, help us to survive or cope with the difficulties of life.

Choices and the anxieties of life coupled together have rocked me at different times in my own life.

In my years of high school, my future was something I had a great curiosity about–who would I be in 10/20 years, what would I have accomplished, what would my family look like? Still, this curiosity came with a billowing black cloud of uncertainty, of difficulty discerning important things such as which school do I go to, who do I date, what career path do I choose? I almost felt as though someone directly telling me what to do would have been liberating, that not having to confront choice and with it risk a lifetime of regret would have absolved me of any poor decision. Even today I find myself at a crossroad of career paths which has been taxing.

Coupled with this was a gloomy view of how I saw and still see the trajectory of the world. I had a bleak view of human existence in high school, a suspicion that all things would come to an end rather quickly, that all-out war if not the literal apocalypse would befall us; liberating as this might have been to absolve me of making decisions, it made me consider if making any choices at all were futile and if I shouldn’t be more concerned about my survival. So too today, seeing how divided our world is I worry for my family’s well-being and weigh my options with a gloomy view of the future. Amid such bleakness, what is worth endeavoring, adding to my plate, and working towards if all things are falling apart into entropy?

This fog of choices and the unrest we feel just watching the news or going on social media extends out even further, however. We experience the fog in grief when we’ve lost someone so dear to us, forced to wonder who else we might lose and how we might go forward through that loss or anticipatory loss. We experience the fog too in illness, receiving a certain diagnosis that could affect our finances, our careers, our relationships, a wide variety of subjects.

These are crossroads and billows of fog that slow us down, that slows if not kills our momentum. Why move forward in anything when as we fumble through the fog we may trip or injure ourselves? Why choose any path when we cannot see where it leads, without any promise of the destination or the pitstops that we encounter upon it?

When A Fog Becomes An Abyss

This crippling anxiety is communicated in this chapter of Genesis. Abraham may seem like a successful figure by now, having taken the spoils of Egypt and survived a famine, having won his first battle and rescued his nephew Lot. Despite these accomplishments, Abraham has encountered great hardship, and perhaps surviving famine and war have not provided him with any comfort, but rather told him that the only thing that surely awaits for him is further trial. God has been good to him, and yet Abraham hasn’t a plan or let’s say worldly assurance that this great nation will in fact manifest, that Abraham will in fact have a lineage to be proud of.

Abraham perhaps would like a break from the trials, to know he can have some stability as he endeavors towards fatherhood. And even so, Abraham tells God in his prayer, “you have given me no offspring” implying that childlessness hasn’t been for a lack of trying, but rather that he and his wife have experienced infertility.

The response that Abraham, again, is an assurance is not worldly proof, but a spoken word of something that has not yet happened. Even worse, Abraham receives a destitute vision. 

We read that Abraham is overcome by a dread darkness and that God speaks to him the truth that his descendants will be slaves for centuries. This is all coupled with an expectation of his descendants breaking free of bondage, of coming to prosperity, and for Abraham to reach a good age and to die in peace.

Still, Abraham must be wrestling with doubt and overcome by the grim vision and the disheartening news that his descendants will see multiple generations of hardship and abuse.

And yet Abraham, as we shall see, continues his journey. He does not walk away from God’s promise jaded or burned out. Abraham does certainly falter in the next chapter, but we will see how his faithfulness is restored and how he continues to sacrifice to God and continues to do as God commands. 

Brave the World

Many of us find ourselves in Abraham’s shoes from this chapter. We find ourselves having done hard things, performed thankless deeds and wonders, and remain fruitless. We toil hard, we do right by God and by our neighbor, and our long-requested petitions are met with no answer, or perhaps the answer of “wait”. Even so, any assurance we might receive that a prayer will be answered later, that our labors will bear fruit later, we might receive a kind of similar dark vision as Abraham, grim knowledge that those ahead of us will inherit a mess along the way.

Ultimately, however, our attention cannot be focused solely on the here and now. “Easier said than done,” right?

When we hit our thumb with a hammer, we are not reminiscing of childhood or dreamily contemplating the possibilities of our future. We are a giant thumb, throbbing, in pain. We are acutely tuned into the present, and that is what the pain of grief, the burn of anxiety does to us. Even if we should worry about the future, that worry is really embedded in the here and now of our thoughts. It is our duty to reach past the future of uncertainty that all things will perish, and to take hold of the truth that something greater awaits for all of us should we do all that is asked of us, should we trust in God.

We may each die with a great deal of disappointment, perhaps even regret. We may feel we haven’t accomplished everything, have not seen the bliss of children, grandchildren, or great grandchildren, or crossed everything off our bucket list. So too Abraham dies without seeing the glory of Israel–as does Moses–and many of these important figures of the Old Testament will have gone their whole lives without seeing the Messiah, the Lord, the Son of God in the flesh. The Apostles will not have seen the glory of the Church surviving thousands of years later.

And yet here we are. Things may not be perfect or glamorous, but there is glory waiting for all of us, marvels that we cannot begin to comprehend both in the future of the earth and in our intended lives in paradise. 

It takes special work for us to incline our hearts and minds out of that which is perishable all around us, and to remind ourselves of the future selves we are destined to grow into, the future we are to lay out to those we call children and disciples, and the eternal life that awaits all of us.

Today, consider the following:

  • What are some tough decisions I find hard to make that will have a great impact on myself or others? Write these down, take them to prayer every day.
  • What are anxieties I have of the future? Where can I turn my attention to so that these anxieties don’t dictate my life, action, and choices?
  • Who are my “children” or “disciples”, either literal or metaphorical? What do I need to change in my life to lay a good foundation for them? 
  • How often have I thought on my own impending death? What do such thoughts provoke me to change in my life?

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