Faith and Fails

Hero Of The Bible AbrahamI am fascinated by a story told in the Biblical book of Genesis about a man named Abraham. Abraham is a big-time Bible Hero. The Bible calls him “blessed” and a “blessing” to the world. He is acknowledged by Muslims, Christians, and Jews as the father of their religion. What made him special was his trust in God, a day to day faith that was a fine example of what God looks for in people.

The story that fascinates me, however, undercuts a lot of that good press. It’s actually two stories and I’ll summarize them this way: At least twice that we know of this “Hero of Faith” did something very nasty to his wife, Sarah. Traveling in a foreign land he passed her off as his sister concealing the fact that they were married. Sarah was beautiful and Abraham was afraid that someone might take advantage of his vulnerability as a traveler among strangers by hurting or killing him in order to seize her as their own.

In doing that he had sunk about as low as you can go. He had exposed his wife to sexual assault and even trafficking. In fact, he himself basically pimped her. He let one man bind his “sister” into a harem never raising his voice on her behalf. I expect that most women partnered with a jerk like that would ditch him fast. It’s a sordid tale made terrible by the fact that this is Abraham, the man acknowledged as patriarch by all the major religions of the western world. What are we to make of a story like this?

When you read a story in the Bible (or any book for that matter) you always have to ask yourself one question: Why was this or that scene written? Authors and editors know that every scene must serve a purpose or else it must be excised. These two stories are in the Bible (though many might wish they weren’t) because they teach a lesson.

When I see Abraham, a man of unquestionable faith, driven by fear and anxiety to do self- serving things I see a magnified version of myself. Like Abraham I trust God – I really do – or at least I try. And I do a pretty good job of it as long as things are moving along easy. But the moment things go sideways like I start bleeding at dialysis or my prosthetic foot isn’t fitting like it should, all that trust quickly dissolves into despair and depression worthy of an atheist.

These stories remind me that faith is an attitude tested daily. It passes some tests and fails others. That’s just how it is. But even the biggest fail doesn’t mean that God has rejected me. Like Abraham, I still count in God’s sight as a man of faith. All I need to do is calm down and remind myself that the Lord, who I really do trust, is still with me. When I do that I do not find that the presenting problem suddenly vanishes. But I do find that my fear and depression is replaced by the confidence I need to deal creatively with the problem.

Faith and Excellence

QualityBack in the 1980s, a movement began that invited business leaders to focus on doing things and making things that featured excellent quality. The Malcolm Baldridge Award became a prestigious achievement and Tom Peters’ books were inspiring business leaders and manufacturers to strive toward perfection. That movement permanently affected life in much of the capitalist world, driving creative minds to do things bigger and better than ever imagined or to craft unique products that offered enduring value.

As a writer in the field of religion, I would expect one fan of the Quality Movement (as it came to be called) is Jesus. In his story about a business manager in Luke 16, he chided his followers for lacking imagination and creativity specifically in their business activities and made it clear that he expects his followers to generate lots of Baldridge Award winners.

Why would he expect such a thing?  As people of faith, we live our lives under God’s power, plan and purpose. We are freed from the burden of self-reliance and from the anxieties that go along with that because we know God is working all things toward our lasting good. Living fear-free, we face a question no one ever faced before. We should not ask what we HAVE to do because we don’t HAVE to do anything. God is giving us all we need. At the same time, there is nothing we CAN do to earn our place in life because we already enjoy full and eternal acceptance and you simply can’t improve on that. The only question we face is one that most of us shy away from ever asking ourselves because it’s just too scary to deal with. That question is: What do I WANT to do with my life? Every other question has been answered. Each of us is free from all the “shoulds” and “musts” that define most lives (unless we choose to simply ignore the gift given to us). So with every possibility, the universe offers wide open to us the only question we each face is what – honestly – do I want to do? Once we figure that out our life task is simple, do it.

It turns out that the question God sets before us is also the foundation of excellence in business and living. Top quality in any area of life cannot be achieved by pursuing objectives that others have set before us or by serving the banal expectations of culture. As I demonstrate in my book The Ethics of Chaos: Finding Happiness in a World Gone Crazy (available on Amazon), a high quality life begins when we each identify the unique dream God has planted in our head and heart and pursue that dream with passion and courage rooted in faith in God and it’s natural outflow, trust in ourselves.