2.2 The Voice of God
Abram is called to leave country, people, father’s household (all sources of ethnic, racial, tribal identity) in order to become a “great nation,” (Gen 12:1-2). The blessing is conditional upon the leaving. We miss the drama of the departure. Abram was not young, but middle-aged by Biblical standards (75 years old), and we can only surmise the reaction of his father's family, knowing they would never see him again, and of Sarai, who would never see her own relatives. This leaving was not a round-trip, as they must have realized. It was a rupture of long-established tribal ties, a severing of community, for the sake of a vague idea of becoming "a great nation." How did this promise come to him? -- a dream? a vision? an angelic visitor as later occurred prior to the destruction of Sodom (Gen 18)?
The apostle Paul later extols the faith of Abram in believing God for a son, when his body was as good as dead (Rom 4:19). However, surely, the faith to launch out into the void, abandoning all his known world, equals or exceeds his faith for an heir. In this bold act of "folly," he resembled Noah. The same kind of crowd that jeered Noah as he toiled to build his massive boat in the midst of a dry country watched Abram's camels and donkeys depart Haran for the West. "What a fool!" they thought, "what a faithless son to his aged parents."
Everything is at stake here -- Abram's name will be changed, a son will be given him, he and Sarai will die in a strange land among alien peoples, the history of the world will be changed...because Abram left home. There is a transfer of allegiance going on here, "out of darkness into His marvelous light," out of obscurity into the center of God's historic activity. Here is a man who wagered all on the Almighty.
Racism, however, moves in the opposite direction, it teaches that our true identity is found in our ancestors and our "homeland." It says that true religion is to uphold the totems of the tribe or the caste which one was born into. God is conveniently packaged in familiar terms that support the status quo and validate the values of the family. To cross the boundaries of clan or caste is to commit apostasy and treason.
We see the same forces at work in old white Southern racism and in more recent minority activism. True religion in the South was to believe in the God of order and control, a God who divinely ordained that white people should be the caretakers of His world. More recently, we are told that God can only be known in the experience of "oppressed people of color." This suffering was believed to be in itself redemptive and revelational.
In both cases, it is group membership (by race) that holds the key to religious truth. One goes "inward" and "backward" to find God's voice. And, conveniently enough, one closes the door on those who do not belong to his own ethnic group. Non-members can never fully participate in the true faith, because they are outsiders. Their comprehension is limited, and participation is mediated through the privileged group.
From the very start Biblical faith is opposed to all such home-grown pieties, especially Christian varieties. Abraham (and Moses) found God's purpose for their lives away from home. God neither qualifies or disqualifies a person on the basis of family upbringing. This must be stressed: skin color, nationality, family background are not windows into God's truth, but barriers to hearing Him and distortions of what He says. His true voice calls us out of our past.