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So was Abraham a superhero? In fact, he started life rather unpromisingly as a refugee from Iraq (Ur of the Chaldees), settling in Turkey (Haran), then he became a nomad in Palestine, and lived for a time as a foreigner in Egypt.
Ever since the word 'superhero' came into the English language at the beginning of the 20th century, we have been fascinated with these characters – never more so than now, as you can see by the 28 American films based on superheroes that have been released in just the past five years.
Abraham could well be the first superhero in the Bible. He dominates over a quarter of the book of Genesis (from chapters 12 to 25); his name crops up all over the Bible: 148 times outside those 14 chapters, in both Old and New Testaments; he became so wealthy that he was able to raise a private army and defeat the combined forces of four kings; and 4,000 years later, three major world religions lay claim to him as a key figure: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Some of the qualities of a superhero, according to Wikipedia (which I feel OK about quoting, as we are not dealing with factual accuracy) are: extraordinary powers or abilities; a strong moral code; a motivation; independent wealth; and a backstory that explains how the character obtained his abilities. Although Abraham does not fit some of the other qualities (such as wearing a distinctive costume), on the basis of these here, he would certainly qualify.
So was Abraham a superhero? In fact, he started life rather unpromisingly as a refugee from Iraq (Ur of the Chaldees), settling in Turkey (Haran), then he became a nomad in Palestine, and lived for a time as a foreigner in Egypt. All this sounds strangely topical 4,000 years later, though Abraham was not fleeing violence or persecution but was following a sense of God’s calling or was avoiding famine.
As ever, the Bible is ruthlessly honest about his shortcomings as well as his successes. Not once, but twice he pretended that his wife was his sister because he feared for his life in a foreign country (Genesis 12 and 20); and in doing so he caused himself a lot of trouble.
When God promised him a son he took matters into his own hands and tried with his wife’s maidservant (Genesis 16), with disastrous consequences - it was he who created the roots of the longstanding Jewish-Arab conflict (Isaac v Ishmael).
No, Abraham is no superhero. He had strengths and weaknesses, like you and me. But he entrusted his whole life to a superGod; and that is what made the difference.
He was willing to undertake the hazardous journey from the security of Haran, even though he did not know where he was going. He trusted God's ridiculous promise (when looked at logically) that he would father a child with his wife when her womb was dead and he was 100 years old.
And through that one child he has become not only “the father of many nations” (Romans 4:18), but also “the father of all who believe and trust God” (Romans 4:12-13).
I find this profoundly encouraging. There are no superheroes in the kingdom of God – which is why we need to beware of importing the cult of celebrity from the society around us.
There are only ordinary people like you and me who trust in a superGod who enables us to bear fruit that will endure (John 15:16). That fruit may be spectacular, in the public eye; or it may be unnoticed, behind the scenes. I remember George Verwer saying that it was not really him who founded Operation Mobilisation but the unseen, unnamed lady who prayed for him and his friends when they were rebellious teenagers in the school across from where she lived. Many that are last will be first, and the first last (Mark 10:31).
Are we ready, like Abraham, to do whatever God asks us to do, to seek him for a promise and then to hold firm to the promise until it is fulfilled, even if it takes many years?
Even when we have done that, it will not be a superhero's welcome that we receive when we are ushered into the presence of our Lord, but a simple, Well done, good and faithful servant! (Matthew 25:21).
That will be more than enough for us.