Abraham trusted God. But, Abraham was wrong. He was not wrong to trust God; in that he was absolutely right! But, he was wrong in the way he had decided that God was going to work. His theological system was wrong, but he trusted God.
What am I talking about? Well, I’m glad you asked.
In Genesis 12:1-3, God promised to make Abram into a great nation through which the other nations of the world would be blessed. In Genesis 15:4-5, God further promised that the nation would spring from Abram’s own son. Then, in Genesis 18:10, God specified that the promised son would be a child of Abraham and Sarah. Finally, in Genesis 21:1-3, God kept the first part of his promise, and Isaac was born to Abraham and Sarah.
But, something strange happens. God commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering in Genesis 22:1-2. The Genesis account indicates that Abraham thought that Isaac would return down the mountain with him after being sacrificed (Genesis 22:5). However, Genesis doesn’t tell what Abraham thought would happen.
When we read Hebrews, we get a further glimpse into this story. According to the author of Hebrews, Abraham had decided that after he killed Isaac, God would raise him from the dead (Hebrews 11:17-19). You see, Abraham knew that Isaac would live and have a family, because God had promised that he would be created through Isaac.
So, Abraham rationalized that since he was supposed to kill Isaac, and since Isaac was supposed to continue living, then God must plan to raise Isaac from the dead. Abraham knew what God had promised, but he did not know how God would accomplish that promise. Like most of us, he tried to figure it out for himself.
Abraham was wrong. His theological system – his way of understanding God and what God was planning to do and how God was going to do it – was in error on this point.
But, the good news is that Abraham did not place his trust in his theological system. Abraham did not trust what he had reasoned on his own. Instead, he continued to trust God, even when God worked in a way that was contrary to his understanding – contrary to his theological system.
You see, if Abraham had continued to operate according to his understanding, he would have sacrificed Isaac. Why? Because according to his system, that’s what was necessary for God to do the work that Abraham had decided God was going to do (raise Isaac from the dead). Imagine what would have happened if Abraham had continued to operate within his theological system…
It is not bad or evil to have a theological system. We all have one. And, every theological system is wrong at some point.
However, we must be certain that our trust is placed in God, and not in our theological system or our understanding of what God is going to do or how God is going to do it.
Even though Abraham’s understanding was wrong, he is still listed in Hebrews 11 because he trusted God (sometimes in spite of his theological system).