As I write my next novel based on the early life of Abram, I’m struck by the fact that a man born to an idolater in a pagan city in ancient Mesopotamia would somehow serve the one true God.
The Bible does not explain how this came to be.
Like much of the Genesis narrative, it leaves many of the central questions unanswered.
But for Abram, at least, we’re not left without clues from other potential sources. (Albeit dubious clues.)
Because Abram is a central figure in three of the world’s main religions: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.
As I’ve studied the different traditions surrounding Abram’s life, I’ve found some very interesting stories, along with some extremely strange ones that are hard for me to believe.
For example, in Jewish tradition, Abram studied in the house of Noah and Shem, and was miraculously saved from the fiery furnace of Nimrod in an extremely dramatic narrative (even though Abram lived in both Ur and Haran, where Nimrod was never recorded as being in power).
Now, anyone who has read my books knows that I’m a fan of fantastical narratives – but that is only so long as people know that it’s not to be taken as historical fact, but rather as fiction.
So, in trying to tease out what Abram was truly like, I’m attempting to weed out what seems to not be in line with the text of Scripture.
This is a highly arbitrary process, but it’s also what makes each fictional adaptation of Scriptural stories so unique!
Anyways, when looking through tradition, I’ve searched for patterns that are in line with Scripture, and considered those patterns potential arrows pointing in the right direction.
For example, there is one very interesting story in both Jewish and Islamic tradition that seems to be in line with the person of Abram as revealed in the Scriptures.
You see, Abram’s father Terah apparently made himself wealthy by selling idols.
This seems to have been a source of contention between father and son.
According to legend, Abram went to his father’s idols, took a rod, and smashed all of them except for the largest before putting the rod in the hand of the one idol left untouched.
His father came with other men from the city, and they grew angry with Abram for what he had done.
Abram jokingly said, “Your gods were fighting! It seems they destroyed one another.”
When they only grew angrier, Abram answered them by saying, “If you do not believe your gods capable of doing even this, why do you worship such lifeless clay figures formed by human hands?”
And that’s about when they threw him in a fiery furnace.
But regardless of whether it happened, the story makes me wonder if we have the courage to smash our own idols?
We live in a very different time and place than Abram. Abram had no Bible to guide him. He lived in a land of polytheistic pagans, and the culture of ancient Sumer was different from our own.
Yet we know that Abram was willing to trust God even with the life of his own son.
In mulling over Abram, especially in light of the Apostles’ view of him, it seems clear that what made Abram faithful was that he trusted God and depended on him entirely.
Likely, because of the fractured relationship between Abram and his father Terah, he didn’t expect a large inheritance. This becomes more plausible when we consider that it seems he was the youngest of Terah’s sons.
Because in the Biblical narrative, God is the one who promises Abram an inheritance. And so God became like Abram’s surrogate father.
The promises of the Lord became the hope he labored toward. Even to the point of moving his family from land to land over many long years to follow God’s will.
In our mostly comfortable lives here in the West, do we live totally dependent on God?
No. In many ways, it’s too easy to find emotional satisfaction, distraction, and excitement out of entertainment.
We bow at the glowing altar of smartphones and tablets. We congregate in the dark chamber called a living room, and as the incense of popcorn stings our nostrils, we gaze upon the pedestal of the television and feel awe.
Like clay and precious metals, these devices on their own are innocuous.
In fact, they’re formed of materials that rolled off God’s tongue at creation. Materials that he called good.
It’s what we do with them that potentially makes them idols that pervert our hearts and desires.
Living dependent on God, and seeking him for our heart’s satisfaction and excitement, frees us to enjoy all of life in a way that is pure. There are good ways to use these tools, and bad ways.
But for those of us who feel stuck, incapable of getting out of a spiritual rut, are we willing to smash some idols?
Are we willing to make an extreme change in order to see ourselves be freed?
Christ demands that we die to our flesh. That we take up our cross and follow him. That we drop everything, and count it all as lost for the sake of knowing him.
We need to be intentional about where we set our hearts and spend our time. Not as zombies anesthetized by technology and comfortable wealth.
God came to give us life from the dead, after all.
To be people who love him and who change the world.
(PS: You should take this as a metaphor. Please don’t actually smash your family’s digital devices. That’s a good way to get yourself thrown into a fiery furnace. 🙂 )
Lord, captivate our hearts, and give us wisdom to engage with the world around us with purity of heart, and with moderation. Give us wisdom to allocate our time appropriately. Not foolishly, but with the goal of living a healthy, strong, vibrant, and joyful life.
Is there something that takes a bit TOO much of your free time? For one week, fast that thing, and replace it with time reading God’s word and praying.