Obedience, waiting, not knowing why: thoughts on Abraham and Noah from Radiolab

This is the best talk I’ve ever heard on Abraham and Noah, and it really ministered to me.

It feels kind of like a sermon, but it’s not one.  It’s from of all places, Radiolab, the secular science-y Peabody winning WNYC podcast. This message is from Easter / Passover 2009, but I just heard it this past week.  I think it’s appropriate at any time of year, and I think it also touches upon apt Advent themes of waiting, hoping, and not knowing why.

First, some necessary hedging statements.

  • This is not a sermon.  I don’t even think the Robert Krulwich is Christian.  But it’s faithful to my read of the Bible.
  • This is from a secular source–so it uses the word “good” to describe people as non-Christians commonly would.  It also mentions “Darwin” once.  It also never mentions Christ.  Don’t get tripped up by that—there’s still good stuff in here.
  • Yes, this is the same Radiolab and the same Robert Krulwich that offended Kao Kalia Yang and the Hmong community for their coverage of Yellow Rain in 2012.  Krulwich apologized for his harsh tone, but Yang still feels betrayed by the story.  She and her uncle come off as yokels who believed a false story instead of knowledgable people, with documented evidence, and credentials from governments and institutions.   My limited googling shows that despite attempts to make amends, nothing still has come from it. (See Kao Kalia Yang in Hyphen, April 2013.)

Anyway.  Whew…take a deep breath.   I’ll admit, the last bullet is the one I have a hard time swallowing.  It makes it hard for me to listen to Krulwich.

But this here is Krulwich two years prior—speaking about Abraham and Noah, and calling them good men, to be lauded, to be imitated.  What Krulwich finds so interesting is that the faith of these two men, so much of their actions happen in the midst of silence.  And in that silence, they must have thought about the implications of the bizarre, extraordinary, morality-bending actions that God asked of them: Abraham of killing his long, awaited for son, the son from which he was to bless the nations; and Noah, of all the other living creatures not on his ark being wiped out.   Krulwich imagines them like Abraham Lincoln, reading the list of the dead after a battle, weeping, feeling the weight of the horror and responsibility and still hoping. And life moving on…

His explanation helps me imagine why Noah after the whole bit with the ark and the rainbow, gets so drunk and naked (Genesis 9:20ff).  I’m no Bible scholar, but I can now imagine Noah, still remembering what the earth was like before the flood, still remembering people and animals he knew who did not make it on the ark, still perhaps wondering why.

This viewpoint humanizes Abraham and Noah—makes them relatable to me.  God calls us to hard things—this is why it’s so hard to give him our whole lives, which is what he asks for.

This viewpoint also gives me permission?  validates? the struggle that comes AFTER OBEDIENCE to a hard call.  As Krulwich notes, while Isaac was saved, most of the time, “Isaac’s” are not.  Hard things still happen even after you do the hard thing God has called you to do.  Careers take a tumble, people still die, people still suffer and are abused, reputations lie ruined for a while, and some cowardly friends do flee leaving you all alone. I’ve experienced this, and I’ve screamed out wondering why—when I have done my very best to follow, when it was costly to follow God.  I know God owes me nothing—and yet, I still wonder why.  And I’ve been majorly pissed at God for it.  A lie I used to believe—was that God used me to bless others and not me.  It was a lie, and I knew in my head but it took many, many years of prayer to overcome it.  Perhaps I am still overcoming it.

God though does not leave us alone.  He does not give up on us even when we are pissed or turn our backs on him.

Faith, real faith is not a blind trust in God.  Faith, a real faith is seeing the big and little picture, seeing the contradictions, seeing the heaviness, the ugliness, the whatever—and being okay with perhaps never knowing why.  Faith, a real faith is knowing that God knows more than us, and in the end (though in the short term it seems quite otherwise), in the end, He will work out his very best—which is also the very best for us.

We Christians know that in the end, all things do end well for us.  This is the hope.

Christ is coming, Christ has come, Christ is coming soon.

Blessings this Advent as we await our Lord’s coming.

[audio http://www.podtrac.com/pts/redirect.mp3/audio4.wnyc.org/radiolab_podcast/radiolab_podcast04insilence.mp3 ]

If audio link doesn’t work, it’s also here:  http://www.radiolab.org/story/91898-in-silence/

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