It's been a very long time since my last post on this book. Our group considered chapter one a month ago, I just forgot to post about it. It was a good chapter and a good conversation.
What is the deepest longing of your heart? What would life be like if you were given what you longed for? Keller warns, "We never imagine that getting our heart's deepest desires might be the worst thing that can ever happen to us." Using Romans 1:24, Keller argues that when God gives us our hearts deepest desire, it is often a form of punishment, for our hearts turn these desires into idols - things that replace God. He writes, "Every human being must live for something. Something must capture our imaginations, our heart's most fundamental allegiance and hope. But, the Bible tells us, without the intervention of the Holy Spirit, that object will never be God."
Keller then takes the reader to the story of Abraham and uses him to illustrate the point. He argues that "while God's call demanded that he give up his other hopes [associated with leaving his homeland and family], it had also given him a new one [children, blessing, etc]." This is, in my opinion, similar to the call that comes to each of us - 'Repent and Believe'. Turn from your sins, vain hopes, self-centered dreams and believe what God is doing for you, what he is offering you.
Keller continues following the story of Abraham, filling in the gaps of the story with some creative, if maybe misguided, reading between the lines. Regarding the call to sacrifice Isaac he writes, "Abraham's affection had become adoration. Previously, Abraham's meaning in life had been dependent on God's word. Now it was becoming dependent on Isaac's love and well-being. The center of Abraham's life was shifting. God was not saying you cannot love your son, but that you must not turn a loved one into a counterfeit god.' I disagree with Keller's exegesis - I don't see this in the Genesis 22 text; however, his point is good. Gifts from God can become gods in and of themselves.
After a short section in which Keller helps the reader understand the importance of sons to Ancient Near Eastern cultures, he turns to a discussion of Abraham's faith. While Abraham's faith is radical (see Gen. 22:5 and Heb. 11:17-19), Keller is correct when he says "Abraham was not just exercising 'blind faith'. Could God raise Isaac from the dead? Is he faithful to his promises? Abraham had good reason to say 'Yes' to both questions. He had seen God's faithfulness in action repeatedly, especially in providing him with a son. Moreover, he had seen God's miraculous power in that his son was born to him and Sarah in old age. He understood the promises of God ran through Isaac, knew God was faithful to his promises, knew God could do the miraculous. His faith had it's reasons. Based on his first hand knowledge of God and his ways, he acted in faith - albeit a radical faith!
This test seems unthinkable to us. It's so harsh, but Keller points out that God's harshness, his seeming cruelty, is actually gracious. He used the episode to teach Abraham more about himself and to shake him free from idolatry (or potential idolatry). Maybe the most difficult situations in our life our God's gracious means for shaking us free of inappropriate attachments, idolatry, self reliance, etc. What might seem cruel is gracious and we can only appreciate this if we understand how idolatry enslaves, then destroys. We destroy our idols because, in Kellers words, 'no [idol] can bear the full weight of godhood'. Then once our idols have been destroyed, we're left in despondency and despair.
So what is it in your life that threatens to replace God? It's probably something very good. What would be hardest for you to sacrifice? "Something is safe for us to maintain in our lives only if it has really stopped being an idol. That can happen only when we are truly willing to live without it, when we truly say from the heart: 'Because I have God, I can live without you."
So far, Keller's book is long on diagnosis and short on prescription. Well, that's not exactly fair - I'm only through chapter one after all. I'm looking forward to the next chapter and discussion on Thursday night.