Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.
Hebrews 11 reads like a film narration laid over a quiet scene of men and women giving their lives for some great cause. There’s a “Braveheart”, “The Patriot”, “Gladiator” kind of feel to it (all three films are highly recommended). The potential tragedy of these sojourners is balanced out by the over-arching purpose of their lives. They were far less concerned with comfort and prosperity than with the gloriously mysterious destiny that can only be awakened in the soul when Transcendence has come to kiss the forehead of mortality.
Abraham’s story is particularly apt here, as he didn’t even know where he was going when God called him. And, truth be told, we never really get the feeling that he much cared. The journey mattered to him far more than the destination. And as beautiful and God-centered as Abe’s mindset was, the writer of Hebrews throws a subtle jab that I’m fairly certain has caused wrestling matches in heaven. He refers to Abraham as a walking corpse, “as good as dead”.
And it was from this walking dead man that we find a description that truly baffles the mind. In this cadaverous state, Abraham didn’t just produce a son, but he produced an entire solar system of life. This is the metaphorical language of the writer. A legacy as big as the heavens above. A legacy as dense as the the grains of sand. That’s quite a bit to come from a man who was precariously teetering on the edge of mortification.
I can’t help but think that this language wasn’t merely used to set up future ribbing sessions in the Celestial City (though certainly Abe had to have grinned at the verbage). I do believe that in a Biblical chapter that has the ability to invoke guilt instead of passion if it is read through the errant lens of “what can I do”, these four little words, this prepositional phrase, is an oasis for the souls who desperately want to do great things for God but find our own strength lacking far more often than adequate.
How much does a convalescent, old gypsy really bring to the table? How much of a contribution does “as good as dead” really allow? Certainly not much. But it is exactly in that place that we find God’s power at work in a remarkable way.
There are those days that we feel “as good as dead”. For any number of reasons we find ourselves worn out, run down, failed souls in search of relief from the exhaustion of life’s battering rams. Our Timex has quit ticking. Everything is outrunning our Deere. The Snickers isn’t really satisfying. As the Miracle Max put it in The Princess Bride (another highly recommended film): we’re “only mostly dead”. But then we get to Hebrews 11 and find out that we aren’t the first to be here. We aren’t the first people to desperately want God’s promises to exist in us with vitality, and yet feel the earthly reality of collapse steadily approaching.
In midst of these things let us not forget the simple and profound reality that God does His most amazing work when we are “as good as dead”.
With Abraham it was the inception of an innumerably populated society of grace. With Gideon it was the inconceivable victory of few over many. With Jonah it was the unbiased mercy poured through an unwilling vessel. With Peter it was the glory of Heaven navigating its way through a spirit of intolerable stubbornness. And let us not forget Jesus. May we never forget Jesus. Not only was He “as good as dead”, but He went the extra mile and drank death like the wine of Cana. And in the moment when He crossed over from “as good as dead” to “completely dead” the entire world found the doorway to redemption, symbolically seen as a huge curtain in the Jewish Temple, not just unlocked, but exploded from its hinges.
There must be a hope in us that transcends death. But I fully believe that it is easier to have hope in what comes after death than what come when we feel the fingers of death closing around us. It is not that we can’t embrace the idea of immortality in the after life, but that we are apt to doubt the beautiful potential of our own mortality in the here and now. Broken vessels aren’t good for much in our estimation. But can we agree that whatever is poured into a broken vessel is almost immediately spread to the area surrounding that pot? Should the glory of God be any different?
Perhaps it is through those “human” places of weakness that God wants to pour His miraculous love onto more humans. Maybe we are carrying those weak places today. Maybe, just maybe, for today, it’s good that we’re “as good as dead”.