When our GPS Flounders: Genesis 12:2-3 as a Correcting Lens

Posted by on Feb 6, 2022 in Blog | 2 comments

black camera lens with inscription

A few months ago I was on my way to speak at a meeting on the other side of Perth (north of the river for those who are locals) and because it was unfamiliar territory, I trusted my phone GPS to guide me. Usually this works beautifully, but for some obscure reason (probably the endless roadworks in Perth), this time it didn’t. My estimated arrival time suddenly changed from 18:46 (giving a nice buffer for my 19:15 start) to 20:47 and instead of a journey of 47 km, I was apparently now due to arrive after covering 134km. I was less than impressed, and managed to pull over and work out a route which saw me arrive at 19:11 – with all of 4 minutes to spare, and feeling seriously stressed.

GPS’s are wonderful until they aren’t. Once home, I tried to figure out what had gone wrong. Seems like the GPS was confused by a recently opened road at a roundabout which meant that it should have told me to take the third exit, not the second one. And that is when the chaos had set in. One little wrong direction and my careful plans were almost wrecked.

While it may sound a little trite, I recently heard someone suggest we should check our personal GPS system – because even if only slightly out, it can lead us seriously astray. The speaker went on to argue that the GPS was our beliefs about God, People and Self.

Fair enough – but where do we glean our beliefs about God, People and Self? I’ve been thinking about Genesis 12:2-3, where God promises Abram:

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”

It is one of the most repeated verses in the Bible, sometimes duplicated word for word, at other times in very similar words – and you will find it in Genesis 18:18; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14; Acts 3:25b; Gal 3:8. That’s a lot of repetition underlining that this is a sentiment for us not to miss. I’d like to suggest that if you have to use one passage to check your God, People, Self lens, Genesis 12:2-3 makes a good choice (especially as it is one passage that appears 7 times).

Why?

Well think what it says about God.

It starts with God making an extravagant promise to Abram – who at that time looked as though he would never have children. God proclaims that this childless man would be the father of a great nation and that all the nations of the world would be blessed because of him. Read the verses too quickly and you could conclude that Abram was God’s favourite – specially selected and elected by a God who cares for some (like Abram) more than others (the rest of us).

We often assume election is about privilege and status – but is this what the passage teaches? To the contrary, it teaches a very intentional election that leads to the blessing of all. Abram is chosen so that the rest of us will be blessed. His election is not about privilege, but responsibility – and a weighty one at that… the blessing of all the peoples of the world.

Is the picture we glean from this one of a God of favourites, or a God who longs to bless all. Could I suggest your GPS setting is out if you don’t spot that this is a passage aimed at blessing everyone – Abram simply being a means to achieve this highly desirable end. This is a God who cares for everyone. This is a God who cares for you, for your neighbour and for that unspeakably difficult person who is so different to you.

If the G gets us to check our setting on God, P reminds us to explore what we think about people. Gen 12:2-3 informs us that God’s intent is to bless all the peoples of the world. True, those who fight against what God intends may find themselves cursed, but the original intent remains the same – the blessing of all people. It means that when we think of the people of the world we must think of them as God does – people who matter, people who are close to the heart of God. It forever challenges our partial listening to the news – where we listen out for the stories about the people and interests that concern us, but quickly tune out to those who have not found their way into our circle of compassion. Why is it that we are horrified if an earthquake or flood kills 10 in one country, but then pay no attention when it kills 1 000 in another. Why do some tragedies seem so much more tragic than others, other than for our own distorted lens which assumes that some matter more than others. Gen 12:2-3 will have none of this.

God, People and Self. The S challenges us to look at our own role in this. If we are followers of Jesus, like Abram we have been invited to be part of a people (the People of God) through whom all the world will be blessed. We are not pawns in a meaningless game, but players in the Story of God – the story of the God who plans to bless all the people of the world. We have a role to play – our life matters – we have been blessed to bless.

There is a slightly disturbing sting in the tail of Genesis 12:2-3, found a little further along in verses 10-20. Having been told that all nations will ultimately be blessed through his family line, Abram’s first act is to go to Egypt. There he passes off his beautiful wife Sarai as his sister, fearing that the Egyptians would kill him if they knew he was her husband. Thinking Sarai is unmarried, Pharaoh adds her to his harem. God intervenes and rescues her by sending a serious disease on Pharaoh and his household. To be clear, the trouble started because Abram lied about his marital status. In this opening snapshot, Abram is a dismal failure when it comes to blessing Egypt. As with all scripture, we must note the warning. Just because we are invited to bless others does not mean that we might not abuse our privilege and be a curse to them – a sobering reminder that we are actors in the story of God, not puppets whose actions make no difference.

But that is to focus on the negative. The invitation is for us to live in such a way that others are blessed.

Let’s then do a quick lens calibration. The God we worship is the one who loves all the people of the world and plans to bless them. This God dignifies our life by inviting our blessings to overflow into the lives of others. You matter, I matter, all people matter, and God’s plan is that all the people of the world will be blessed. And that includes the people we overlook or consider to be of little consequence, for God’s vision is more expansive than ours.

As always, nice chatting…

Photo by Dastan Khdir on Pexels.com

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2 Comments

  1. Thank you so much Dr Harris. Really appreciate your post.

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