When we accept the invitation to unite our lives with the life of Christ, our individual stories get stitched into the tapestry of a much bigger story belonging to the One who was before Abraham. Our story is no longer limited to our lives or our families because our story is more ancient and new than any of these. When we join with God, we are connected to a story reaching back before the beginning of the universe and extending far beyond the horizon of the future, to the resurrection of the dead, and into the new creation.
In my office rests a small mason jar of red dirt, the soil of western Oklahoma rich in oxidized iron and clay. The dirt is from the freshly dug grave of my youngest sister, who died twelve years ago this month. She was six. I was eleven.
We lived in Illinois but buried her in Oklahoma, where a small family plot already gathered several generations of extended family and now a child. We had lived in several places all over the country and figured her grave would be better tended and longer remembered here than anywhere else.
We would visit her grave yearly, usually once in the summer and once in the winter, marking seasons and years together. The strangeness of grief is that you continue to change while the one you’ve lost remains as they were, and so over time the gap between you grows wider and wider.
During our visits we would walk among family headstones while my mom taught us the history behind the names. Fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, somebody’s child, somebody’s lover, somebody’s friend. I am a continuation of their lives.
It’s strange how understanding our history can shape how we understand our lives presently. Our history being unknown to us doesn’t put us beyond the reach of its influence. When we feel lost or unsure, it can be helpful to retrace our own history. We can find a foreshadowing of the future rooted in our past.
The Generations of Abraham
As I recently read Genesis, I noticed anew how the patterns of family history play out in the four generations of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.
First, God comes to Abraham and calls him away from his home, his people, and his family to wander. Abraham is given a promise but nothing more—not even a name to call his caller by, yet he is called a “friend of God” (James 2:23 ESV). He never finds a place to rest except for the grove of trees near Mamre, where he builds an altar, encounters God, hosts angels, and buries his own wife Sarah. Later, Abraham himself is buried with her.
God then appears to his son, Isaac, promising to “confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham” (Gen. 26:3 NIV). God connects past promises given to Abraham to Isaac, who is the recipient of his father’s blessing. The God of Abraham becomes the God of Isaac. He and his wife Rebekah join the family grave in Mamre.
Isaac’s sons quarrel and betray one another, seeking to receive that same blessing in their own lives.