Phillip Adams writing on Kerry Packer in The Australian October last year provides us with an insight into the powerful and wealthy man he became. In his article, Adams shares some of the conflict and difficulties Kerry suffered at the hands of his father and how the need to succeed and to be successful was a burden. Adams finishes the article as follows, and I quote, “ At the beginning of our odd friendship, after the first of our conversations that would go on until two or three in the morning, Kerry would talk about black holes. “That’s what I’ve got inside me. A black hole,” he said.”
Last week some of us watched the apology of the richest and the most powerful sportsman in history who has been humbled by a similar black hole. Tiger Woods said, “”I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to. I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me. I felt I was entitled. Thanks to money and fame, I didn’t have to go far to find them.”
The black hole is merciless and swallows up the rich and the famous as well as the ordinary schoolboy or girl who thinks the rules do not apply to him or her. Despite all the opportunity we have before us, no matter how successful we are, we often find selves bemoaning our place in the world and looking for ways to fill that black hole. It never goes away.
In the 15th Chapter of Genesis we discover one of the most successful, most powerful and most wealthy of men, Abram, having to deal with his own personal black hole, one that if you follow this career never goes away. He never quite got over his fears and his doubts and his life is littered with bad decisions. Here we meet him after he has had a very successful time. In chapter 13 Abram & Lot had divided the land between them, with Lot taking the best parcel, described in ways similar to the Garden of Eden; Abram get’s a somewhat lesser although a quite extensive lot, simply “the land of the Canaanites”.
In chapter 14 Abram rescues Lot, defeats Chedorlaomer, among others with the result that the warlord King of Sodom offers him the riches of his conquest. He takes nothing – he does not use this as the opportunity to secure his future, for him his future can only be secured by “the Lord Most High”.
Very grand and full of faith. Yet…. Here in the beginning of chapter 15 he is anxious, he’s not as happy and relaxed as one who makes the claims he does may be expected to be. God is aware, and says to him, ‘Do not be afraid, I am your protector, you will get your reward’.
Abram seems to be like most of us. We can rise to the big occasions, deal with that extraordinary challenge, find some where in ourselves the necessary resources of wisdom, skill and faith to deal with the big stuff but become unstuck by the little.
For Abram it’s that he and Sarah still have no natural heir. It has been some time since God had promised that, Abram and Sarah have tried a number of stunts to help God get the job done and it hasn’t happened. So Abram is anxious – unsure about whether God can do that thing – he can do big things but can he do that thing?
God shows him the stars and says don’t worry your descendents will be as plentiful as the stars. Abram shrugs his shoulders, he’s not convinced.
How often do we do so in our own lives? We don’t have trouble with God sorting out or helping us through tragedy, difficulties or the unexpected stuff – but what about the day-to-day stuff? Some how we don’t think so, for to allow God to handle the minutiae is for us losing control over the things we think we ought to control.
The rather nonchalant comment that Abram indeed does believe the Lord in verse 6 is a little to simple, a little to easy. We know his track record, he does believe, but we also know that he stills struggles in the midst of his belief.
He sits some where in between, balancing his faith with his doubt, his fears with his assurance, his confidence with his anxiety. A priest I know often asks the question: What is the opposite of faith? (PAUSE & REPEAT) The answer is not doubt it is certainty. Certainty takes faith completely out of the question for we now no longer need to believe for we know.
God seems very comfortable with this perceived duality for it is not a duality at all. Faith and doubt are twins and sit comfortably together. Without one you do not have the other and neither will defeat the other but will simply provide the nourishment to stay with the questions in our life.
Thomas Merton in “Thoughts in Solitude” comments:
“Contradictions have always existed in the soul of man. But it is only when we prefer analysis to silence that they become a constant and insoluble problem. We are not meant to resolve all contradictions but to live with them and rise above them and see them in the light of exterior and objective values which make them trivial by comparison.”
In verse 6 God honors that living with the questions in that “the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness”. God understood his desire and accepted his questions as being the right way to live. He said to Abram and he says to us through the life and words of Jesus that he accepts us with all our contradictions as being the people he calls us to be.
Perhaps the challenges is best expressed in the words of Rainer Maria Rilke, in his book “Letters to a Young Poet”: ““Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.”
Abram did and so can we. AMEN