Of all dad’s in the bible, my favored one is Abraham. He is the perfect example of the sinner-saint matrix. He was such a sinner, yet so perfect in God’s eyes that at one time God called him a friend. In ancient culture, when an authority figure called you a friend, it meant that you were an equal, that they trusted you with responsibility and secrets, and your failings overlooked. In ancient cultures, nothing could sever a friendship. In fact, in some cultures, a blood ceremony took place to seal the friendship. Friendship was a big deal.
God called Abraham to live his homeland and head to a land he had never seen before. A man of faith he is, right? Remember, Abraham was a Chaldean, an idol worshipper and yet hears from an unknown God and follows this God by faith. And someone from the back shouts yes, “This is an example of a strong man. This is what I want to see in a man. I want to see strength.” You are right but wait a minute.
On his way to the land which God promised to show him, a famine ensued. Abraham sought relief in Egypt. Just as he was about to enter Egypt, he devised a plan with his wife Sarah to lie to the Egyptians that Sarah his wife was her sister. Why? Sarah was beautiful and Abraham thought if the Egyptians knew Sarah was his wife, they’d kill him and take her. And he reasoned that if they thought she was his sister; they’d treat him well. And this is exactly what happened. Sarah dutifully followed through with the plan, and Pharaoh gave Abraham wealth. Somebody else at the back shouts, “Abraham was not a good man. He lied. He exposed Sarah to danger and harm. He used Sarah to become wealthy. Abraham is not a man to be emulated.” You are right, too. When the Egyptians discovered that Abraham had lied to them and had taken advantage of them, they deported him and his family.
This see-saw, this saint and sinner matrix where Abraham is obedient and yet a sinner of note repeats itself throughout his life. Abraham had this rock-solid relationship with God and did bad things.
Check this out.
He separated from Lot his nephew and ceded to Lot the best part of the land. When Lot got into trouble, he took his armed militia and rescued lot. Oh, what a kind man.
He met Melchizedek and gave him a tithe of all he had. Oh, what a spiritual man.
Abraham, at the urging of his wife, slept with Hagar, his maid, and Hagar conceived. But then Abraham allowed Sarah to mistreat the mother of his child to the point where Sarah kicked Hagar out of the house. Oh, what a passive man. Oh, what a horrible employer.
Yet God appeared to Abraham and made covenants with him. God even changed his name from Abram to Abraham and Sarai to Sarah. When God came to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because of their violence, God stopped by Abraham and Abraham interceded for the city. Oh, what a prayerful man.
Abraham went down to Philistine and repeated the same thing he did in Egypt. He lied about his wife. Oh, such a liar.
In obedience to God, Abraham took his son, the son of his love, to sacrifice him. Oh, again, what an obedient man.
A very old Abraham took another wife, Keturah, and with her had six sons. He couldn’t even wait for Sarah’s dust to settle and got another woman. Oh, what a failure. After his death, he only gave gifts to his step kids but gave all of his wealth to Isaac. Such an unfair man.
This Abraham would later get inducted in the hall of faith in Hebrews 11, and later James called him a friend of God. (James 2:23) WHAT!
This Father’s Day, I would like to celebrate the genius of the Christian faith in defining who a father is. A true father is one who lives well in this tension between strength and weakness, success and failure, and saint and sinner. Paul put it this way. When I am weak, then I am strong. Strength in a man is when he is weak, and when he is weak, he is strong. An oxymoron indeed.
I think we have sold most men this idea that strength is the only matrix of a true measure of a man. In some religious circles, we castigate men for strength and shame them to apathy and indifference. In our cancel culture, when men exhibit strength, we level accusations of toxic masculinity and patriarchy (and rightly so in many instances). When men are indifferent and withdrawn, they are sissies. One social commentator observed that this could be the reason young men became die-hard fans of Jordan Peterson, the famed Canadian clinical psychologist, and professor. The world is searching for strength and when we find it; we cut it at its knees.
The Christian faith offers us a glimpse into this symbiotic relationship between strength and weakness, success and failure, and saint and sinner. It’s okay for dads to be strong and lead their families. It is also okay for dad’s being weak and out of answers. God calls such men, friends. A friend in God’s eyes is one who is able to live in the tension of strength and weakness, success and failure, and saint and sinner.
Man, I wish most men knew this. Just this simple truth would make men live long. Abraham did. He died when he was 175 years old. It is a good day to remind dad’s that in their strength and despite their many failings, God still calls them friends. More good news? This friendship came to us at a great cost. On the cross, Jesus lost his place of closeness and friendship, so that we could become friends with God. Jesus was treated as if we had broken God’s laws so that God could treat us as if we obedient. Jesus lost the embrace of his father so that we could be embraced and kissed on the neck by our heavenly father. Jesus lost his sonship so we could be called sons of God.
In your strength and despite your failures, Dad, God calls you his FRIEND.
Happy Father’s Day to all Dad’s.
That’s what grace looks like.
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