When our boys were growing up, we tried to expose them to as many different sports, music, theater and academic adventures as possible. We figured it was better to let them sample a wide variety than to force them to specialize in one thing. Your results may vary, but that seemed to work well for us and our guys. There was, however, one athletic experience I adamantly opposed – scoreless soccer. That’s where everybody gets to play the match but the points don’t count. Officially, anyway. Trust me, with a bunch of competitive parents standing on the sidelines, someone was always counting the points. Even without a scoreboard to celebrate the victors and shame the losers, every kid on the field knew which side won the match and which kid scored the most goals.
We learn to keep score early in life and we have been doing it as far back as Genesis. It’s why Cain killed his brother Abel. It’s why Lamech murdered a young man, then wrote a victory poem about it and why the people of Babel tried to build a tower to the heavens. They were counting the points on an invisible scoreboard. The Babel builders even came right out and said it – “Come, let us . . . make a name for ourselves,” (Genesis 11:4). All of which makes what happens in Genesis 12 – when God singles out Abraham for a special blessing – so remarkable.
Here’s what God offered Abraham. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make your name great. I won’t just bless you, I will bless those who bless you. In fact, I’m going to make you so awesome that all people on earth will be blessed through you.
Why Abraham? What was so special about him that God made him this extravagant promise? How many points did he have to score to get a blessing like that?
Well, Paul says Abraham was a man of faith. Maybe faith puts points up on the board. James says he was God’s friend. So maybe if we are friends with God, we’ll get the promise. Hebrews says he was patient and obedient. (If that’s what it takes, some of us are in trouble!) Even Jesus commended Abraham. But – and this is critical – all the good things that are said about Abraham in the Bible refer to his response to God’s blessing – not why God blessed him in the first place.
The Bible actually goes out of its way to tell us that God’s selection and promise had nothing at all to do with Abraham’s spiritual scoring percentage. Romans 4:2 says, If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works (if he had done something to earn God’s favor), he had something to boast about – but not before God.
It’s an understatement to say that when Abraham first met God, he was on a losing streak. Two words dominate the last few verses of Genesis 11 where we are introduced to Abraham and his family: Death and barrenness.
Abraham’s brother and father die. His wife is unable to have children. His past is disintegrating before him. His future is empty. He has nothing. So what was so special about Abraham that God chose him?
Nothing at all. Out of all the other people in the world, Abraham may have been the least likely to succeed. He was 75 years old when God chose him. He had nothing and had nowhere to go. In his commentary on Genesis, Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann writes, “If it had been our task to begin a new history, we would have done so in a more hopeful context. But not this God. Inexplicably, this God speaks his powerful word directly into a situation of barrenness.”
God keeps speaking his powerful word of promise and blessing to Abraham and his family all through the book of Genesis, despite how poorly they perform. And perform poorly they do.
That’s what the Bible calls gospel. Good news. Because that means that you don’t have to put up a bunch of points to win God’s promises. You don’t have to clear some bar. That means that no matter how unsuccessfully you have lived, no matter how big a mess you have made, even if your life is a moral, ethical, relational rolling dumpster fire, you are a candidate for the blessing.
God finds us in the same condition he found Abraham – not in our victories or in our abundance or strength. God discovers us in our barrenness and brokenness and weakness and invites us into his blessing. That doesn’t just count for something; it counts for everything.