Do you ever cry, “Wait a minute!” at statements in the Bible? I admit that where Paul says Abraham did not waver in unbelief, my indignation used to rise. However, like so many difficult Bible passages, a deeper lesson about our faith and doubt and God’s grace is waiting to be uncovered.
Here is Paul’s claim: With respect to the promise of God, [Abraham] did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform. Therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness. (Rom. 4:20-22)
My inclination is to list the times that Abraham wobbled. Genesis 15:6 is where God credited his faith as righteousness. But for years, Abraham lurched between faith and doubt in His promise of a son. In the very next chapter, Abraham succumbed to a gust of disbelief and temptation that blew on him from Sarah, his wife.1 Having learned to deal with personal doubts we often sway when those closest to us raise new ones. Sarah suggested they lend God a hand by appointing Hagar, her maid, as a surrogate mother. At 85 years old, Abraham decided that made good sense. But human good ideas often insult the greatness of God, hurting us and others. Abraham wavered and Hagar got hurt.
Thirteen tense years pass before we rejoin Abraham in Chapter 17. Abraham was still struggling. Was Ishmael his best hope for an heir, after all? Then there was that name! Every time he, Sarah, Hagar or one of the servants spoke Ishmael’s name it haunted Abraham. “Ishmael” (God hears)—was it promise or mockery? Would God hear Abraham’s heart cry or was God’s ear reserved for Hagar alone, as if to spite him for his unsteady faith? His continued struggle is clear in the words God chose to restate His promise and in Sarah’s laughter at the prediction of a son within a year.2
Paul implies that God overlooked Abraham’s lapses. Of course, He foresaw Abraham’s faith remaining strong in the final test of His willingness to obey God and sacrifice Isaac.
Perhaps God saw Abraham’s life events compressed into an essence that spelled FAITH because faith did eventually triumph in obedience. However, don’t assume you can safely flunk all the coursework but happily pass the final test—God sees into hearts.
God graciously looks past our mixture of faith and doubt to the direction of our hearts. Are faith struggles evidence of wandering? Do we question or doubt God because of an inner rebellion or refusal to take a faith step? Or is doubt just a downswing in our undulating but sincere search for the things of God. God knows the hearts that are set toward Him.3
If you are committed to grow in faith, be encouraged by Abraham’s story. There is nothing to stop you and me becoming strong in faith, even if we occasionally struggle.
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Abraham did not doubt that he would have a child. He waited on the Lord and after many years, he was prompted by his wife to go in to Hagar; but He still believed God. We do not have it recorded before that time that God said through Sarai.
Waivering in faith is more like praying for healing; and going to a doctor for treatment. Jesus came “to deliver those who through fear of death were all their lifetimes subject unto bondage.” IF God cannot fail in answering our prayer, why do we not wait on Him? Why must the doctor get credit in the eyes of the unbeliever. As Abraham later took his son, Isaac, to be offered as a living sacrifice, we also are to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice so we can show the world the glory of God. Those who wait see their God fulfill His promise in this lifetime. Double minded person is not in unwaivering faith, “and let not that person think that he shall receive anything”. That is the promise in the Bible. This is not condemnation; this is stirring up the faith that is within you.
I agree with much of your comment, Marie. However, I think that doubt, like faith, is usually evident in our actions and words. Abraham wasn’t quite at a point of faith when he strayed after Hagar. But the point Paul makes is God’s grace.
I have been most blessed by your article. keep writing because someone out there, and very far away from you is reading! Thanks from a grateful heart here in the warm sunshine lit office in Accra, Ghana, West Africa!
Thanks for the encouragement, Justina. I like the look of the ministry you are doing in Ghana. Our pastor is visiting a church there in a couple of weeks.
I’m still struggling with Romans 4:20. How can it say “No unbelief made him waiver concerning the promise of God” when he agreed to have a child by Hagar? That seems like a big waiver to me. Could you shed some more light on this for me? Thank you.
Yes, I see the problem. Sometimes the Bible seems to ignore things that we know are there. I can only guess that Romans 4:20 is an expression of Abraham’s faith for a period before he accepted the Hagar plan, or that it represents the way God views us. He forgets our sin when we repent. In the end, Abraham’s faith did shine through.