11. Abraham, the Father of Faith

Abraham Faith:

The West considers Socrates the father of philosophy, just as the entire world regards Abraham as the father of faith. The three major monotheistic religions – Christianity, Judaism, and Islam – all claim Abraham as their forefather.1 

Abraham grew up in Ur, a city-state of southern Mesopotamia. After the great Flood of Noah, people began to multiply again and spread throughout the earth. Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Shem (from where we get the word Semite) became the ancestor of all of the Middle Eastern peoples, including the Jews and the Arabs. It was through the line of Shem that God would reveal Himself to the world. He would not do this all at once, but gradually over two millennia, until His revelation culminated in Jesus Christ, the ultimate revelation of God. After the Flood, this revelation began with Abraham. 

Faith and Reason

It is crucial at this point to properly juxtapose faith and reason. In our modern perspective, reason means something that is based in scientific facts alone or empirical knowledge. It has nothing to do with the realm of the spiritual. Modern thought recasts faith as a pure belief independent of scientific fact and potentially even at odds with it. In our secular world, faith leans towards being seen as irrational.

In post 6, I explained how Socrates separated reason from superstition yet grounded reason in spiritual or divine principles. Socrates saw no dichotomy between reason and the spiritual. He taught that a spiritual foundation was necessary for sound reasoning. Until the Enlightenment, the West believed these two things were intertwined. Then, the Enlightenment split them apart, even pitting them against each other. 

Over the next few posts, I will explain how Abraham ‘s faith was not whimsical but grounded in fact. It was rational. The kind of fact and the type of reality Abraham based his faith upon was a spiritual reality over which science has no jurisdiction. To use an analogy, a metal detector is excellent for finding buried coins, but it is useless for detecting radon gas in the basement. Likewise, science is a great tool, but only for understanding the physical world. This discussion avoids venturing into the realm of metaphysics.

The Ignorance of Fideism and Scientism

Today, we live in a world dominated by scientism. Scientism is “the excessive belief in the power of scientific knowledge and techniques.” In other words, we think that science can explain everything and has the answers to all of our problems. We view science as the highest and final authority that trumps all others. Science attempts to explain even religious faith.

We should reject scientism, but we should also reject fideism. Ideism forces faith without grounding it in facts or evidence, even contradicting them. In contrast, Abraham and other Old Testament saints’ faith rested firmly on God’s revealed truth. But how can we grasp this spiritual reality? Only through God’s revelation can we learn about the spiritual realm. It is beyond the reach of our scientific instruments.

And that brings us back to Abraham, for God revealed Himself to Abraham. The Bible said that he “appeared” to Abraham. This is a significant word that I will expand upon in the next post.

The spiritual realm is just as much a reality as the physical universe. God gave the ancient Greeks the ability to develop reasoning skills to a highly sophisticated level. God entrusted His revelation to the Jewish people, Abraham’s descendants in the Old Testament. Socrates based his philosophy in the divine, but God did not reveal Himself to Socrates. He merely guided him through things like dreams and oracles.

While intelligent, the Jewish people of the Old Testament did not prioritize philosophical inquiry. Their reasoning skills didn’t reach the heights achieved by the Greeks. However, they received a unique privilege – divine revelation, the “oracles of God” as described by St. Paul in the New Testament. This set them apart from all other nations. These two separate streams, faith and reason, would eventually converge two millennia after Abraham in the Christian Church. 

Trapped in the Matrix

In the West, we mostly live in an artificially constructed matrix, which is more like a prison. In this matrix, we are forced to live by false presupposition that material reality is all of reality. Unless somebody shows the true reality, we remain forever trapped. This is not a new idea, but a very old one. The most unambiguous expression of this phenomenon in ancient times if found in the analogy of Plato’s cave.

Many people in the West are imprisoned in Plato’s cave, where they can only see a distorted reality. Outside the cave is the full revelation that includes the spiritual. Returning to the former way of thinking is impossible for those who escape and encounter that reality. However, if that person attempts to enlighten those in the cave, he will almost certainly face persecution and even death.

The 1999 move The Matrix gives us a more contemporary version of Plato’s cave. At one point the protagonist, Morpheus, is giving a choice to take a red pill or a blue pill. He could choose the blue pill and stay in his perceived, but fabricated, reality. Alternatively, the red pill would reveal the truth about the Matrix. This originates from the term “red-pilled,” which describes someone who sees reality for what it is, not the illusion presented to them.

However, in Ur, Abraham lived in a matrix of sorts. Before encountering God, he lived in a construct of paganism that veiled rather than revealed reality. His “red pill” moment was when God revealed himself to Abraham, and he saw reality for what it was. The matrix that we live in today continues to grow darker and more threatening. Those asking about an alternative reality are considered public enemy number one. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only red pill that open our eyes to the actual reality. Suddenly, we see a spiritual world behind and undergirding the physical. Those who refuse such a gift are doomed to live out their existence in a nihilistic universe that offers no hope. But we learn from Plato’s cave that most people would rather remain in the bondage that they know, rather than embrace the truth that they don’t know.

The Sacred and the Secular

As a civilization, we used to talk about the division between the sacred and the secular, the secular being the natural world around us and the sacred being that which represents transcendent spiritual reality. For example, an ordinary drinking glass is a secular object, whereas a chalice used in a Communion rite in a church is a sacred object once it is set apart for such use. Just like the person who escaped from Plato’s cave, when we encounter such a thing as Communion in church, we are experiencing a transcendent reality. When God appeared to Abraham, he faced a transcendent reality.

While the secular and sacred may be distinct, they are meant to be united. Thomas Aquinas stated that “grace perfects nature” or “grace completes nature.” This is a way of saying that spiritual realities infuse the natural world. Moreover, God’s glory and majesty are expressed through the physical creation. The ultimate example is the Incarnation, where the Son of God, the transcendent Logos, inhabited his creation in a human body. We remove a crucial aspect of reality, leaving only a hollow physical creation – a mere husk of its intended purpose. It is like Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, a body with no soul.

Creation then turns from something meant to reflect the transcendent to something else altogether. It turns from something inviting to something hostile. Rather then a creation under God’s fatherly care, we have a creation that may destroy us if we don’t placate it through our various recycling rituals. When we ascribe sacred qualities to naturalistic phenomenon, then we end up with pantheism, or at least a countless pantheon of gods that Abraham found himself surrounded by.

Without God, the natural order becomes a frightening place. It is like the little child in bed looking at all of the forms and shadows in his darkened room. Because of his active imagination, ordinary objects morph into monsters and demons. When his parents come into the room to comfort him, they simply turn on the light and all of the monsters vanish as the turn back common objects again.

The world Abraham lived in was equally frightening. The people would starve and crops would fail if certain gods were not appeased. The god of travel’s anger brought robbers upon you. (or) If the god of travel was angry, robbers would overcome you. Like the rest, Abraham was subjected to hostile and capricious nature. But that was only until he encountered the transcendent God who, like a loving parent, shone the light of his glory onto the world as he endowed Abraham with eyes of faith. Suddenly, the frightening objects of the world are seen in their true light as objects intended to serve man and glorify God.

In his Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul states that Abraham would inherit the world. It was too small of a thing for him to inherit the land of Canaan in the Middle East. Instead, he and his descendants of the Promise, the Christian Church, will indeed inherit the earth someday. Abraham discovered that the planet would eventually become a gift to him and his descendants rather than being a potential threat to his existence. And it all started when God called him to venture forth from Ur, to lead the world out of darkness of superstition into His marvellous light of truth.

Pope John Paul II stated:

“Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.”2

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Deo Gratias

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Abraham Faith

Amazon Reviewer: “Contemporary European disdain for organized religion and the rise in secularism on that continent owes its roots partly to the Enlightenment. Thus, to understand modern Europe one has to return to this epoch in its history, to those who shaped the European mind of this era and to a study of the ideas which they espoused and propagated. These ideas, for good or for ill have taken hold in other parts of the modern world, being incarnated in many minds and institutions in contemporary society and threatening to enthrone a world where only a certain kind of rationality without faith or a sense of Transcendence reigns supreme.” -Rev Paulinus I. Odozor, C.S.Sp, Professor of Moral Theology/Christian Ethic and the Theology of World Church, University of Notre Dame, Indiana, USA

Footnotes:

  1. Parrot, André. “Abraham”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 13 Mar. 2021, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Abraham.
  2. Encyclical Letter Fides Et Ratio, opening statement by The Supreme Pontiff John Paul II on the relationship between faith and reason, https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_14091998_fides-et-ratio.html, September 14, 1998

Bibliography and Sources:

 Agbaw-Ebai, Maurice Ashley, Light of Reason, Light of Faith: Joseph Ratzinger and the German Enlightenment, St. Augustine Press, South Bend, Indiana, March 26,2021

Crawford, Harriet, author and Harrison, Thomas, series editor, Ur: The City of the Moon God, Archaeological History Series, Bloomsbury Academic, New York, 2015

De Mieroop, Van, A History of the Ancient Near East, ca. 3000-323 BC, 3rd Edition (Blackwell History of the Ancient World), Wiley-Blackwell, Hoboken, N.J., 2015

Hahn, Ph.D., Scott, Kinship by Covenant: A Canonical Approach to the Fulfillment of God’s Saving Promises, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT., 2009

Kramer, Samuel Noah, The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character Revised ed. Edition, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1971

Time-Life Books, editor, Sumer: Cities of Eden, Lost Civilization Series, Time Life Education, 1993

Voegelin, Eric, Order and History, Vol. 1: Israel and Revelation, classic reprint hardcover, Forgotten Books Publishers, London, 2018

Zainab, Bahrani, Mesopotamia: Ancient Art and Architecture, Thomas Hudson publisher, High Holborn, U.K., 2017

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