The Abrahamic stories establish the moral foundations for fathers, family and fortune. We learn from Abraham how to become a man as the necessary step to becoming a benevolent father, and even a father of nations, of which our father Abraham became of western civilization.
Then the LORD said to Abram, “Leave your country, your kindred, and your father’s household, and go to the land I will show you.” (Gen. 12:1)
The story begins with the first step that Abraham needs to take to become a responsible mature man. I should point out that no one should be allowed to have authority over a community, or God forbid a nation, if they do not know how to care for their own family. But we’ll get back to that.
Early in the biblical narrative we learn that to become a man one “must leave his mother and father and cleave unto his wife.” Which means taking responsibility for one’s actions without blaming anybody else, like your parents. Or like the first family’s son Cain, who blamed his brother for his own troubles.
By leaving his family, Abraham had to make decisions on his own because he was faced with many unknowns in a completely unfamiliar environment. That is exactly what happens to all of us as we grow up and must face unknown territories like puberty. We don’t know how to behave in a responsible way in this new inner world. People who do not take responsibility for their behavior in this unexplored territory are often never able to cope with their sexual urges in adulthood.
God’s call to Abraham meant that he had to face a new world and make choices about what to do without knowing exactly what the consequences might be. Instinctively, when faced with not knowing what to do or where to go, we want to run away or go back home where we feel safe. But that’s dangerous, too. It’s like the Israelites who wanted to go back to Egypt soon after wandering in a desert of insecurity, because sometimes it feels like it is more difficult to face the unknown as free men than to stay with what we think we know. We say the devil we know is better than the one we don’t know, but neither of these is a particularly viable choice.
Abraham became a man because he faced the fears of uncharted territory in search of a “promised land.” This meant taking responsibility for his actions and learning to live with the decisions he made, especially the bad ones, and not blaming others, but learning to do better. It’s called maturity.
That is what happened with the disciples when Yeshua called them to leave everything and follow him. He became like a father to them. But when he goes away they need the guidance of the spirit, or the underlying principles needed to make decisions on their own in whatever environment they might find themselves. Behaviors in one family or society may not work as well in an unfamiliar environment, or as social situations change. Like the apostles who had to figure out what to do with the Gentiles who wanted to join them.
The problem with institutions or religious denominations when they grow too big is that they require behavioral compliance and become too rigid to allow for the adaptation needed to face the never-ending changes in the individual or in society. A friend of mine used to say that constant change is here to stay.
The scientific revolution has been a particularly challenging unfamiliar environment for Christianity to adapt to wherein older structures struggle to remain relevant to the worldview of younger generations. Jesus refers to this problem in the parable of new wineskins.
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How did Abraham do it?
Young people understand instinctively that there must be something better than what the current society (or a church) offers as the optimal way of living. Abraham knew that the call to follow God to the promised land was greater than anything else he had known in his entire life. And it’s never too late! Abraham was already 75 years old when he left Haran. He knew that as difficult as it was going to be to leave and cleave, that here was a dream, a vision and a way of life far greater than what his culture and the imposing civilizations had to offer, and so he left willingly.
It is often overlooked that Abraham left from Ur of the Chaldeans, a small kingdom on the shores of Persian Gulf which was engulfed by emerging Mesopotamian empires soon to become Assyria, Babylon and Persia, a region where totalitarian civilizations were squashing individual freedoms and families.
This conflict between repressive regimes and individual freedoms is a major theme in the earliest Bible stories leading to the call of Abraham (see notes below). We find it in the story of Cain and Abel, which reflects on the dangers of resentment that destroys every attempt at social cohesion, be it in a family, city or empire. Cain is marked so that others can be aware of his sociopathic behavior, and he must be forced into isolation from the community as a result.
Things got so bad as cities and kingdoms grew bigger that a flood was needed to cleanse the earth before man destroyed himself and everything around him.
Still, we didn’t learn, and the fall of the Tower of Babel reflects the devastation of these ancient civilizations built without godly foundations.
Abraham grew up in these ancient Mesopotamian societies, and the stories surrounding Abraham are introduced as the solution:
- Become a mature adult by taking responsibility for your behavior and stop blaming others.
- Make the selfless sacrifices necessary to raise a family and become a compassionate father.
- Then are you ready to become a father of fathers.
How extraordinary that a simple man like Abraham together with his wife Sarah, despite all the mistakes they made along the way, would become the father of Prophets, Apostles and even the Messiah (Mt. 1:1).
By following God’s simple plan to become men and women who take responsibility for our behavior without resentment, bitterness or blaming anyone other than ourselves, willing to make the sacrifices necessary to be benevolent parents and raise children equipped to walk in the ways of our father Abraham, even you and I can become fortunate enough to move our culture or church or community in a better direction.
Remember, it’s never too late to start deciding to do what’s right.
Further thoughts on how Abraham became the solution to the world’s problems
The very first family in scripture reflects the ancient conflict between cattle raising (Abel) and soil tilling (Cain), the two fundamentals of human civilization that have been practiced since the Mesolithic age, the final period of hunter-gatherer cultures in Europe and Western Asia dating back over 10,000 years ago.
This conflict is described in the literature of Sumer, the earliest known civilization in the historical region of southern Mesopotamia (Iraq), in a myth that stresses the hostility between the shepherd-god and the farmer-god. The Sumerian myth is primarily concerned with the material advantages of the farmer and the shepherd, whereas the Bible wants to teach us how the sins of resentment and blaming others for our own mistakes destroy every social unit, from families up to civilizations.
Some of the tensions between civilizations made possible through farming on the one hand, and the more nomadic cultures that allowed for individual freedoms on the other, is reflected in the later shepherd motifs in the lives of King David and the Messiah.
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