Abraham’s Obituary

Do our achievements and accomplishments define us?

man walking his camel at sunset

At several moments in my life I have agonized over my career. At times I’ve been hyper focused on advancement and achievement. Part of the drive was an attempt to feel secure in my personhood and find a place in the world to make an ego-driven contribution.This is a recipe for a career disaster. Ultimately, deriving self worth from an illusory position and vocational accomplishments is going to lead to loss. That has happened to me in a myriad of ways.  Through those experiences I’ve found great relief and encouragement in the Bible, particularly in Romans 4.  

Imagine that you are waking up in Hebron thousands of years ago. You’re having your morning coffee and reading the Hebron Daily News on a tablet of stone. You scroll down to the obituaries and you find that Father Abraham has died. News like this would be a shock.  Abraham was a biblical figure of extreme substance and importance. A figure of that proportion would have tributes coming in from all over. How do you think his obituary would read? What would he be remembered for?

Abraham’s accomplishments

If Abraham lived and died in our modern day we would likely read of his many achievements and accomplishments. We would certainly learn that Abraham was a very successful man; rich in cattle, silver and gold (Genesis 13:2). The obituary might mention how he was a caring and thoughtful leader to allow his nephew Lot to join him on the journey to Canaan, in direct disobedience to God’s instructions (Genesis 12:1-4). We might read that when strife arose between Lot’s employees and Abraham’s employees, Abraham, as a businessman, instilled good company culture by being a peacemaker in his business practices with Lot and his staff (Genesis 13:7-8). Maybe the obituary writer would mention the humility of Abraham as a real estate mogul in letting Lot choose the best land to occupy (Genesis 13:9-11). We could also read how Abraham, as a military leader, led a campaign with men that he trained in his house to rescue Lot (and many others) from Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 14:14). If this obituary was modern it would definitely list Abraham’s philanthropy including how generous he was to the ministry of Melchizedek (Genesis 14:20). These are notable career highlights and life achievements. 

Paul’s focus

In Paul’s letter to the Romans he uses Abraham as an example of what the Christian life looks like in practice, but he lists nothing that Abraham accomplished, save belief. Paul begins chapter 4 with a question, similar to the one I’m posing. What did Abraham discover through the process of life? What was the overall point of the life of Abraham? Before we let Paul answer the question, take a minute to think about it.  

Paul refers to Abraham in Romans 4:1 as “our father.” I take this to mean that Abraham is the archetypal Christian. As “our father” he is the first of his kind. All Christians are walking “in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham” (Romans 4:12). Paul goes on to tell us in verse two that if Abraham is justified by works he could certainly boast about his accomplishments, but not before God. God will not allow boasting. 

This is such good news because it means my failures and successes in life have nothing to do with how God views me. Our work on this side of heaven certainly matters and has great importance. In the context of our relationship with God, God won’t allow us to bring it up. God’s perspective of our lives is not measured in terms of our achievement and accomplishment, but in the accomplishment of Jesus Christ. The lens through which God looks at you and I is the lens of Jesus Christ. This is good news for any of us that can’t keep a job, are insubordinate, have been fired, homeless, or disabled and can’t work. We get to lean on the one work that counts. Jesus Christ is the open door to the free life not defined by failure, achievement, and accomplishments.

St. Paul brings it all home in Romans 4:5 (one my favorite verses), “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” That is the answer to the question Paul poses in 4:1. This is what the archetypal Christian found through the flesh. Paul mentions nothing else about Abraham. The justified know they are the non-working and the non-achieving. In the words of the late country music singer/songwriter, Billy Joe Shaver, we are all “hobos with stars in our crown.” 

Good news for us

If Paul wrote Abraham’s obituary it might simply say “And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness (Genesis 15:6).” That was the only thing that really mattered about Abraham. Paul knew this first hand. Paul was a real overachiever and he further echoes these sentiments in Philippians 3 when reflecting on his own advancements; “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.” Paul, at times mockingly, and with enthusiasm considered his achievement to be a pile of you-know-what compared to Jesus Christ.What does a lesson like this do for you in practice? Understanding that our earthly work has no consequence with our justification, we can have a completely different viewpoint of our 9-5. Our security in our justification liberates us to be open to any dream or vocational pursuits we’d like to explore without fear of eternal consequence. In the words of theologian Gerhard Forde, “what do you want to do now that you don’t have to do anything?”

  • Luke Roland

    Luke Roland is a non-profit consultant and the Director of Development and Events at Mockingbird. He is a graduate of Appalachian State University with a degree in Philosophy and Religion. He lives near Asheville, NC with his two children.

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Joey Goodall
1 year ago

Thanks for writing this, Luke! So glad to have your work here!

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