God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, her name shall not be called Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. And I will bless her, and give you a child by her; and I will bless him, and he shall become nations, and kings of nations shall come from him.” (Genesis 17:15-17)
God’s promise to Abraham is that his son born of Sarah would be the source of kings and nations. This must have seemed extraordinary to Abraham who really was a desert nomad without a permanent home and certainly without a kingdom. But its fulfillment would lead to St Paul identifying Abraham as the father of us all—not just the father of many nations and kings, but of all people on earth—or at least the father of all those who believe in Christ (Romans 4:11).
Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all (as it is written, “I have made you a father of many nations” ) in the presence of Him whom he believed – God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did; who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, “So shall your descendants be.” (Romans 4:16-18)
For St Paul faith is a far more important category than is ancestry or genetics. Those who are children of God are not so because they are descendants of Adam or Israel, but because they share in Abraham’s faith. So, believers don’t need to worry themselves about their connection to Adam, but only need to be children of Abraham by sharing in his faith in God and faithfulness to God. We are to be people of faith not just descendants of the first human or of Israel according to the flesh (Romans 9:6-7; Galatians 4:21-31); so for believers Abraham is our ancestral father rather than Adam. All the concerns about the literal meaning of Genesis 2 and 3, are really not that significant in Paul’s thinking as it is far more important to be a child of Abraham, a believer rather than to be a child of the flesh. So Paul writes:
For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. . . . Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. (1 Corinthians 15:22…45)
From Adam we inherit mortality, but that is not what defines us as human beings. It is from Christ, the last Adam, that we truly receive our humanity.
This thinking should indeed call into question all ideas of the effects of original sin on all humans. Abraham’s patrimony is far more important to us than is any relationship we have with Adam who proved himself not faithful to God. Christians need to free themselves from the ideas of original sin developed from the thinking of St Augustine. What really defines us as humans is our spiritual relationship to Abraham and to Christ.
St John Chrysostom writes an encomium of Abraham, pointing out that nothing in his life prepared him for such faithfulness to God. For, when Abraham lived, the Law had not yet been given to Israel, there were no Scriptures or prophets yet. His parents would have raised him in pagan thinking. Despite all of this, Abraham found his way to faith in God and then lived faithfully to God even though all around him there was no encouragement or support to do so. Therefore, we who grow up in a ‘post-Christian’ world, really can’t blame society or history if we are not faithful to God. We have the example of Abraham to inspire us to remain faithful and to live the life of a believer. Chrysostom challenges us:
What priests did Abraham have available to him? Tell me. What teachers? What instruction? What advice? What counsel? Since at that time there was neither Scriptures, nor law, nor prophets, nor anything else of that sort, he sailed an unnavigable sea, he traveled an untrodden path. Moreover, he came from a pagan family and a pagan father.
And yet, he was not hindered by any of these things, but he shone with virtue to such an extent that a long time afterwards, after the prophets, after the law, after such great instruction given to men by Christ, by signs and wonders, anticipating these things by his actions, he showed forth genuine and ardent love, disdain for riches, and solicitude for the household of his offspring. He trampled down all vanity and broke away from a luxurious and corrupt way of life, living more strictly than the monks who now betake themselves to mountain tops. The righteous one had no dwelling, but the shade of the leaves was roof and shelter for him. Since he was a foreigner, he was not indifferent toward hospitality, but he performed this work as a foreigner in a foreign land, continually welcoming and serving those who passed by at midday. He performed the whole work himself and made his wife a partner in his good undertaking. . . .
[Chrysostom identifies Sarah as “a partner in his good undertaking.” She shares in his part in God’s plan for our salvation; she shares in his faith and faithfulness. She thus in our mother-the mother of all those who believe like her husband. She shared in his ministry to the angels who visited them. She supports her husband and helps him in his belief and so is no less important than her husband in our faith.]
Neither did the misfortunes cause him to stumble, nor did the good times puff him up, but in different circumstances he kept his state of mind the same. What then? When he was promised a son, were there not numberless obstacles that arose in his thoughts? But having lulled them to sleep and done away with their uproar, he shone with faith. (ON THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD, pp 102, 104-105)
We can imitate Abraham and follow him in being faithful to God despite all that might be happening in the world around us, in our lives, or in all the ideas blathered about on the internet or by media opinionators. The path to the Kingdom is as open to us as it was to Abraham thousands of years ago. No matter how the world changes, the way to God’s Kingdom is still accessible to us as it was to Abraham and all of the saints of the Old Testament and the Church since the time of Christ. Evil and sin cannot block us on our sojourn to God’s Kingdom.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For thy sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)