The Chief End of Man (21)
Prior to Abraham and Sarah’s story the Bible’s actors have a distinctly archetypical character, and thus a much more superficial development. Thus, though their stories contain tremendous theological lessons, it is difficult to engage with them at the level of frail flesh and blood.
These limitations evaporate with the arrival of Abraham and Sarah. Looking back on their story we can almost feel the warmth of their flesh, smell the sweat of their brow and see the sorrow, hope, fear and faith in their eyes. We have come to know them with an almost painful intimacy, sometimes feeling that their sphere of privacy has been violated in the story’s telling.
And so we can profitably address the question of “man’s chief end” within the context of Abraham and Sarah’s lives. So too can we ask and answer the questions of if they did indeed glorify God and are enjoying Him forever.
I finally take up this subject with trembling hands. It is a great peril to imagine oneself sufficient to take on such a task. May I be understood by my LORD God and you, gentle reader, to be a pilgrim seeking to understand rather than as an oracle speaking any imaging of wisdom.
Perhaps it is best to begin with the most complicated of the questions. Did Abraham and Sarah glorify God in their lives? We well know the instances in which they failed to trust God for protection, for the keeping of His promise. We know of their dysfunctional familial relationships, resulting in sometimes-brutal cruelty. That is, we know them in their full humanity, which means flaws included.
Thus, if Abraham and Sarah did indeed glorify God it was done in spite of their manifest deficiencies, not because they were fundamentally better people than you or I. This point is of the greatest import. For if life must be lived on a plane of higher moral perfection than can be achieved by any but the greatest saints then the hope of glorifying God will be a forlorn one for all but the heroes of the faith.
On the other hand, we must be clear that Abraham and Sarah’s failures were just that – failures to trust God’s faithfulness, to love their neighbor as themselves – failures to glorify God. That is, to acknowledge that God can be glorified even within the context of moral failure is by no means license to continue in that failure.
To finally answer the question, yes, absolutely, positively, blessedly yes, Abraham and Sarah did glorify God in their lives. And, though they were flawed just as are you and I, they also are without a doubt both towering and foundational heroes of the faith.
Abraham and Sarah glorified God by staking their very lives upon His promise. They lived as strangers in a strange land for more than half of their lives because of their faithfulness to God’s call. Whenever God called, they answered, ready to listen, to obey. They held nothing back, even their own precious son.
To catalogue their failures is to entirely miss the point. Though they sinned, they were always faced towards the direction of redemption, that is, towards the face of the LORD God who never found them too tired or preoccupied to give Him their undivided attention. In all of this and more Abraham and Sarah glorified God. They glorified Him greatly, abundantly; so much so that their story has filled countless souls with the hope that only faith can secure.
Finally, are Abraham and Sarah “enjoying God forever?” A careful reading of this text gives little reason to believe that they had the slightest inkling of personal immortality. The concept, to the extent that it existed at all, was bound within in the sense of one’s descendents being great in number and powerful.
However, we know that both Abraham and Sarah upon their deaths received the wondrous surprise of eternal life; and that they are even now glorifying God with all the Saints. Let Holy Scripture explain.
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was to go. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. These all died in faith, not having received what was promised, but having seen it and greeted it from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your descendants be named.” He considered that God was able to raise men even from the dead; hence, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. (Hebrews 11:8-19)
To read this passage is to become aware of an astonishing truth. In the end Abraham and Sarah glorified God with their entire lives. They did so because even their struggles and frailties have been transformed by God’s sovereign decree into testimonies that enlighten and encourage the saints.
And so, we imagine that we take our leave from Abraham and Sarah. But we no more can leave them than we can leave our own parents. For as our mothers and fathers are parents to us in the flesh, so too are Abraham and Sarah in the faith – and no less do they look down upon us with the love that only a parent can know.