17 October 2006

Abraham Part VII: A Strange Definition of Rest


"...finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me..."
We end how Abraham began—a phrase I have always found humorous. What could Abraham possibly mean by "greater...rest"? If we look at Abraham’s life, we see that this is both an understatement and a very strange definition.

As an understatement, we have to look at the context of the verse: Abraham has chosen to leave his father’s house in Ur and pursue a path that will lead him to Jehovah. If we remember that Abraham had narrowly escaped being sacrificed to his own father’s gods—a fate that apparently Abraham’s brother suffered—then we might say that for Abraham, things could only get easier. So "greater happiness and peace and rest" might simply mean "getting away from my filicidal dad."

But this is not how Abraham is thinking. First, he takes his father with him. Second, he is clearly not referring to getting away from a rotten former life but instead he is describing how he views the life that lay ahead. What I find so interesting is that Abraham makes this statement after living the post-Ur life; i.e. this is Abraham looking back over his life and calling it happy, peaceful, and restful.

A reminder of some of the events in Abraham’s life will show why this is noteworthy. During Abraham's life he:

• Flees from drought
• Wanders as a stranger in Canaan
• Fears he will be killed in Egypt
• Goes to battle against a huge army
• Sees his son-in-law’s family get nearly destroyed
• Goes without children until he is well over 60 years old
• Is told to sacrifice his own son
• Toils to make a living where he owns no land
• Expels one of his own sons from his household

Abraham’s life was filled with events that we would normally call hardships, trials, or challenges, yet he remembers the walk up the mount with Isaac and the expulsion of Ishmael as "happy"; he looks back on the conflicts with Pharaoh, Abimelech, and the conquerors of Sodom and calls it "peace"; he recalls the miles and miles of travel, travel, travel in search of the land of his inheritance and he calls it "rest." Was Abraham crazy, or was he just blessed with wisdom to see the good in the bad he had experienced?

"Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" (John 14:27).
Incidentally, there is only one other verse in the scriptures that uses this combination of words (Alma 40: 12):

"And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow."

This concludes my series on Abraham 1:2. If you followed the series and liked the way it was published, please let me know. If you found it annoying (ie. you would have preferred to have it all at once) let me know as well. Thanks.


Robert C. said...

It seems the BOM talks about rest mostly in terms of something we obtain in the next life (if we are rightoues) more than what the righteous obtain in this life. Something to study up on more.... In this light, perhaps Abraham means he found out that there was greater rest available to him in the next life if he obtained more knowledge and obedience in this life? I'm not sure if this reading is justified, just throwing out the idea....

BrianJ said...

Robert, I agree that Abraham was probably looking forward to the next life, but only in addition to the peace and rest he would have in this life. I think his use of the word "rest" could be compared to how we talk of eternal life: we hear the benefits of eternal life---being close to God, having a fullness of the Spirit, joy, and more---and we say, "Sounds great! Sign me up."

But the question I have for those who gain eternal life is: when does "eternity" start?

I think the answer, as Abraham shows, is that eternity begins as soon as we decide to fully trust and fully surrender to God.

Robert C. said...

Good point Brian, I think you are right. On the one hand, scriptures that talk about "enduring to the end" suggest something the opposite of rest to my mind. But I think this sense of endure shouldn't be taken too negatively in this sense. I've often thought of this possible tension in light of Mosiah 24:15, how the burdens weren't literally lightened, but the backs that bore them were made strong. I think this is the type of "rest" that Abraham is talking about....

BrianJ said...

Robert: Yes, I think the rest "enjoyed" by Alma's people is a great parallel. Thanks for bringing it too my attention.