Meditations in Romans : 4: Against all hope
Rom 4:18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
We concluded the previous meditation considering the reference in verse 17 to “the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.” and the challenge came never to write off any person as for ever spiritually dead, for God comes and does what we consider impossible and brings life where we think it can never be. This is at the heart of Christian doctrine: God is a life bringer!
But we need to realise the impossibility that challenges faith sometimes. Paul continues, “Against all hope.” When you gaze on a dead body being lowered into a grave, there is no hope. When they have switched off the life-support machine, there is no hope. In the material, human world, there is going to be no last minute reprieve. It is finished. In an aging human body, male and female, there comes a time when child bearing is well and truly passed. There is no hope. This is what the situation was with Abraham. What made it worse was the fact that his wife had never borne a child. It wasn’t just a case of a wish for another child in old age. The scriptural record is quite clear: “Now Sarai was barren; she had no children.” (Gen 11:30) And then God speaks. This is the bizarre thing: faith flies in the face of the absence of hope, in the face of the impossible. Humanly it’s just not going to happen – and then God speaks and says it will!
It is at this point that we have a choice: to believe God or to focus on the impossibility and declare it cannot be so. And so then we read, “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed.” (4:18) It was utterly hopeless, but this amazingly frail believer did just that – he believed God. His knowledge of God was limited, he came from a pagan background, and he had every reason for not believing – but he believed!
He believed God and so “became the father of many nations.” This was spiritually true. Because he believed and continued to try having children, God enabled he and his wife to have a child in old age, Isaac, and from Isaac, Jacob and the nation of Israel and eventually into Israel, God’s Son, Jesus, and through him, children of God from every nation on earth. It was exactly as prophesied: “just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be” (4:18) quoting Gen 15:5 – “He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars–if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” That had been God’s promise and in the fullness of time that was what happened.
But Paul restates this again so that we will not forget it: “Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead–since he was about a hundred years old–and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.” (4:19) Faith does not ignore the facts; it faces them but believes God. It is the attitude that says, “Yes, I can see that there is absolutely no hope of life here – but God has said there will be, so I will believe Him!” Notice the phrase, “without weakening in his faith.” Faith holds on and actions follow. He might have said, “Oh, this is crazy, this is hopeless, I’m giving up this pointless activity!” but he didn’t. Paul then reinforces that: “Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God.” (4:20) Unbelief is the opposite of faith and Abraham didn’t allow unbelief to rise up and quench faith.
No, something else happened: “Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God.” (4:20) He believed and then God spoke again and again, confirming and strengthening his faith. God sees our heart inclination to believe and He comes and strengthens that resolve and speaks the word again and again into our hearts.
But it really started with Abraham’s simple faith: “being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.” (4:21). It was then that God strengthened him, and encouraged him so that he and Sarah persevered and eventually gave or brought glory to God. Yes, He is the God who brings life where there is none!
The challenge of this passage is obviously, will we believe the Lord when He speaks. We believed Him when we came to salvation for we declared our trust in Jesus, but that was just the starting place. The Bible declares a number of times, “The righteous shall live by faith”. Now, yes, that does mean that life flows to the righteous when they exercise faith and come to Christ, but it also means that their ongoing lives will receive the life of God as they exercise faith. Faith is the channel, if you like, which allows the blessing and life of God to flow to us. It is that important!