Descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore. —Hebrews 11:12
God made a promise to his friend Abraham. Though he was old, his wife unable to conceive, he would father the nation of God’s people. Abraham, whose descendants are “as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore” held onto the unlikely promise.
Faith. I suppose the key idea is holding on.
Even today, God may seem distant, his promise a faint memory. But faith holds on to the promise of our Friend.
Sometimes faith means remembering, when everything inside you and around you screams for attention and will most certainly distract you and drown out the voice of memory and cloud your vision of the better things God has promised.
So do this: On a clear night, go out and find a place where there is no light pollution. Look up and start counting stars. You are linked to the promise, the promise God made to Abraham. You are an heir to that promise by faith. You are one of those stars. But what is one star among so many?
It is a flame of promise and potential known by an infinite and omniscient God.
Take a pilgrimage, in your imagination if not in reality. Make your way to the coast. Stand at the shoreline. Look out at the vast immeasurable stretch of ocean. And look down at your feet and all around you. Stoop down and fill your fist with sand. Let the grains filter through your fingers. But hold one. Look at it. Keep it. Imagine its place among all the coastlines of the world. You are that one grain of sand. You are nothing. What do you matter?
No, remind yourself that you are known. That which seems insignificant and forgotten, that which appears lost in the infinity of stuff, is known by God. You, the single star—you, the solitary grain of sand—are part of the promise and known and loved by your Creator.
Augustine wrote: “God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.” A wonderful thought—an idea full of wonder.
One way, then, to take a measure of the love of God is to ask myself, “Does God really love me in such a personal and self-sacrificing manner? Does God love me as if I were the only one, even as he loves you so uniquely?”
If I were the only one, would he still go through the bother of the incarnation? Those long months confined to the uterus of Mary, his mother? The messy and perplexing dependency of infancy?
If I were the only one, would he have spent the long years of childhood, learning and growing, step by patience-testing step, enduring the teasing and ridicule of those who questioned the circumstances of his birth and the integrity of his parents? Would he endure the hunger and the thirst and the fatigue and the grief that are part of the human experience? Would he do that for me, if I were the only one?
If I were the only one, would he face the bitterness and inhumanity of the mob, the injustice of a rigged courtroom, the anguish of abandonment and the agony of the long, tortuous execution? Would he do all this for me, if I were the only one?
Would he rise from death and ascend through the clouds with the promise of return and a place for me, if I were the only one?
If I were the only one, would angels have cause to sing? Would the star still rise, guiding me to the Christ child? Would Mary still smile at the Good News she birthed? Would I have reason to shout and laugh and lose myself in praise?
Why, yes, of course. “God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.”