Tom Cochrane sang “Life is a Highway,” but that musical metaphor of the journey is one that God’s people have been taking to heart for more years than Yonge Street has miles. Ancient Israel’s beginnings were as a travelling people—travelling with God, to God, and sometimes (at least metaphorically speaking) away from God!
We sometimes see that history of travelling begin with Abraham and Sarah. But a quick look at Genesis 11 shows that it actually began a generation earlier, with Abraham’s dad, Terah: “Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot … and his daughter-in-law Sarai … and they went out together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan.”
The only problem is that the extended family didn’t make it to Canaan. Genesis says “but when they came to Haran, they settled there.” Like so many journeys, theirs grinds to a halt before reaching the intended destination. And those few verses provide a meaningful reflection point for all of us who would travel with God, both as individuals and as part of the community of the church.
Like Terah and his family we set out, hopefully with enthusiasm, towards a God-given goal, “the promised land,” “the undiscovered country.” We want to be in the place that God wants us to be, and be the people whom God wants us to be. But somewhere along the way, we lose momentum. It may be that life, even life in the church, has worn us down. It may be that, like the church in Ephesus, we have simply abandoned the love we had at first (Revelation 2:4). The journey we began with such enthusiasm has drained us. We want to be done with walking, if only for a while.
And, when that happens, then like Terah we “settle.”
Now, at least in English, “settle” is a word with multiple meanings. In this case it means that they established a home. They put down roots. The problem was that they came to feel at home in a place they weren’t meant to be. Of course, for us, “settle” can also mean accepting less than is due, promised or desired. And they seem to have done that, too!
So here are some questions for us to think about on our journey with the living God, whether as individuals, congregations or as a denomination: Where have we come to feel at home that is not a part of God’s plan for us? Where have we settled for less than God has for us, or stopped short of what God intends for us? And how are we feeling about the journey? Is it still fuelled by that first love, or are we feeling like it has run us into the ground? Has our former momentum been transformed by our settling into inertia?
In physics, momentum is a property of mass in motion. Inertia, however, is the resistance of a mass to any change in motion. For an object that has stopped, or settled, a fresh application of force is necessary to overcome inertia and impart momentum once again. And that’s precisely what happens in Genesis 12 when God calls Abram to get up and go to Canaan—Abram receives a divine impartation of momentum. To me, that’s not a bad description of renewal.