Friday, February 21, 2014

Abraham, Lot, Relationships, Sources, and Welcome

In The People Factor, Pastor Van Moody draws some interesting conclusions from the biblical story of Abraham and Lot.  Essentially, Moody argues that Lot was a bad friend to Abraham, one who was holding Abraham back spiritually and was even putting Abraham’s life in danger.

Moody notes that God did not tell Abraham to take Lot with him when God instructed Abraham to go to the land that God would show him.  During the time that Lot was with Abraham, Abraham did not hear from God.  Lot was ungrateful to Abraham and complained when there was not enough land for both of their herds.  Lot chose to go to Sodom, and Abraham and his servants had to bail Lot out when an alliance of kings captured Sodom.  When God was about to destroy wicked Sodom, Lot was very reluctant to leave.  Lot even offered his two daughters to the thugs of Sodom who wanted to rape the two angels who were staying in Lot’s home!  And Lot’s daughters apparently absorbed the debauchery of Sodom when they got their father drunk and had sex with him.

According to Van Moody, Lot was not a good friend to Abraham, and yet they were drawn together by shared pain and experiences.  Abraham’s brother Haran died, and Abraham’s father Terah was so devastated by this that he chose to remain in the city of Haran (which he may have named after his departed son) rather than moving on to the Promised Land.  This pain affected Terah’s family, including Abraham and Lot.  After Lot left with Abraham, they had shared experiences.  Moody’s point in highlighting all this is that having shared pain and experiences with someone does not necessarily mean that person is a good friend.

Van Moody’s discussion of the Abraham and Lot story interested me, for two reasons.  For one, Van Moody was getting application out of the final form of the biblical text.  When I was taking biblical Hebrew at Harvard Divinity School, the instructor said that there were different sources in the Abraham story: some of the sources had Lot as a character, whereas others did not mention Lot and were apparently unaware of him.  When God told Abraham to go to the Promised Land and did not mention Lot, therefore, that may simply indicate that we have a Lot-less source in that case, not that God was intentionally snubbing Lot in the story.  Van Moody, however, is dealing with all of these sources after they have been put together, and so he seeks an explanation for why Lot is not mentioned when God calls Abraham.  His reading reminds me of a point that was made in Richard Elliott Friedman’s Who Wrote the Bible?, and also David Carr’s Fractures of Genesis, both of which were about source criticism, albeit with different models.  Both of them asked what the Bible means after the sources have come together.  Who decides?  Is it the reader who is trying to make sense of the final text in front of him?  Is it God, who could have providentially directed the different sources to come together as they did?  Good questions!  In any case, Van Moody attempts to make sense out of the final form of the text.

Second, Van Moody’s discussion made me wonder: Can human beings hinder the move of God?  You see, mainline Protestants and even many evangelicals believe that everyone should be welcome at church, that God can reach anyone where that person is.  But can a person come into church and somehow disrupt the spiritual flow or the work that God is trying to do?  There are times when it seems to me that evangelicals appear to think so.  I’ve even wondered that about myself.  It’s not that I would come in and actually try to disrupt a Christian community, but, if I am not on the same page as they are, then my presence can be disruptive, whether I intend so or not.  I would like to think that God is so big that God’s plans cannot be disrupted by human beings who may like to question, or who may not fit in.  And yet, even if things may move more smoothly if Christians are around people who are on the same page as they are, if Christians are being unwelcoming to certain people, then what exactly is their mission?  What is the aim of God’s work?  I thought that it was to welcome and include people.

Those are my ramblings for the day.

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