Faith Is Not Certainty

In this week’s Torah Portion (Vayeira: Genesis 18-22) is the famous episode of the binding of Isaac. Much has been written about this as many scholars, Rabbi’s and Christian apologists try to unravel this complicated and contradictory event.

I think though that the late Rabbi Sacks, saw something different here. He saw a narrative that involves Abraham growing in his faith and learning to deal with contradictions and to have the courage to deal with uncertainty and through it all maintaining and strengthening his faith.

I will share below my understanding based on Rabbi Sack’s initial thoughts.

Abraham, like every one of us, needed to walk the long journey of growing in faith and relationship with the Almighty. Despite his early heeding of the call to leave his home and family and travel far, he still had much growing to do and part of that was appreciating that ‘there is a long and winding road between promise and fulfilment.’

Abraham was charged from the beginning with a new thing. He, and a special portion of his descendants, were being called to be a light to the world, a beacon of hope and strength to all.

The Almighty would need to teach Abraham that this pioneering movement that he was to be the progenitor of would demand extraordinary strength of character. Nothing great and transformative happens overnight.

Even when you appear to see a miracle happen in one day (think the founding of the State of Israel) or in one moment when some amazing blessing suddenly falls in your lap, yet it is, in reality, the result of many days or years of toil and struggle to be in the place to receive the blessing.

Life’s journey to true peace, joy and fellowship with God requires us to keep going in and through the hardest of times, even when we are tired and lost, exhausted and despondent.

As Sacks writes:

“God will bring about everything He promised. But not immediately. And not directly. God seeks change in the real world of everyday lives. And He seeks those who have the tenacity of faith to keep going despite all the setbacks. That is what the life of Abraham was about.

Nowhere was this clearer than in relation to God’s promise of children. Four times, God spoke about this to Abraham:

[1] “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you.” (Gen. 12:2)
[2] “I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted.” (Gen. 13:16)
[3] “Look up at the sky and count the stars-if indeed you can count them.” Then He said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” (Gen. 15:5)
[4] “No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you.” (Gen. 17:5-6)

Four ascending promises: a great nation, as many as the dust of the earth, as the stars of the sky; not one nation but many nations. Abraham heard these promises and had faith in them: “Abram believed the Lord, and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6).”

Against these promises and this background, the trial that Abraham faced with the apparent call to sacrifice Isaac, was more of a trial was to see whether Abraham could live with what seemed to be a clear contradiction between God’s word now, and God’s word on all these previous occasions, promising him children and a covenant that would be continued by Isaac.

It would appear from the Biblical narrative that Abraham did not know what to believe or how it would all end, but he did know that through all this traumatic uncertainty he needed to trust HaShem.

Abraham understood that faith is not certainty; it is instead the courage to live with uncertainty.

Abraham had faith that the promises from the Almighty would all somehow come to pass, but he was being asked to leave the how and when, the specifics, to God.

As we read in Proverbs 21:31 “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory is of YHVH.” – Proverbs 21:31

We need to be prepared, to step out in faith and do our part but the ultimate outcome, the ‘victory’ is accomplished by God. To truly trust is to accept this uncertainty.

Reflect, if you can, on the times when all seemed close to lost but then doors were opened and HaShem walked you through them into His blessings. Normally such ‘miracles’ are the outcome of much effort and faith prior to the time of the miracle.

I had such an experience very recently which I write about in ‘Our Passover of 2022’ –

I have also reflected on this Torah Portion in blog posts such as this one:

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