The Altared Life

Ruins near Bethel, where Abraham is said to have built an altar. Photo circa 1920.

By Chuck Griffin

This season of Lent is a good time to consider how we honor and worship God. Abraham, called “Abram” in Genesis until God decrees a name change, is one of those faithful people who serves as a powerful example.

In Abraham’s story, we begin to see how the relationship between God and sin-sick humanity might be restored. In Genesis 12:1-8, God tells Abraham that a faithful response to God will have its rewards. Abraham will be a great nation with a great name. And through him, a blessing will come about that makes it possible for all the families of the earth to be blessed. (Think of a particular descendant, Jesus.)

Abraham is asked to do something in response to these promises—get up and move from a prosperous, comfortable life toward a strange land, Canaan. God seems to be saying, I’ll do something new, but show me you’re the kind of person who can handle change.

I’m struck by how Abraham’s lifelong response to God’s guidance makes use of altars, stopping points along the way where Abraham can worship and honor his creator and divine friend through prayer and sacrifice.

Abraham enters Canaan and builds an altar. He moves deeper into Canaan and builds an altar. God gives him a vision of all that will be called Abraham’s—a vast territory. And Abraham builds an altar.

Altar construction must have been routine for Abraham. Even in Genesis 22, when God makes the strangest demand on Abraham, the sacrifice of the old man’s long-awaited son, Isaac, Abraham faithfully builds the altar and prepares to act. God stops the sacrifice, seeing he has found a man who can pass the ultimate test of faith.

I’m left to wonder how successful I am at faithfully building altars in the modern sense, as I move through the years. Am I constantly looking for new ways and places to give praise and thanks? Do I use worship to mark those times when God’s intervention in my life is obvious? What of my life am I willing to give up to ensure I properly honor my creator and benefactor?

The altared life is the way to live, if Abraham’s story is any indication.

Lord, remind us to respond formally to your grace, and let us find joy kneeling at the altars we construct in this world and in our hearts. Amen.

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