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Responding to God’s Call: Reflections on Genesis 12

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Written by Dr. Grace W.Y. Au, Assistant Professor of New Testament Studies at Acadia Divinity College

 

Leaving Behind

My name is Grace Au, I am from Hong Kong. In 2023, I embarked on a new chapter as an assistant professor of New Testament at ADC. Alongside this recent transition, I have been led by God on numerous journeys.

As I always find myself drawn to the intricacies of God’s word, some insights from God’s call to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 have deeply engaged me.

Firstly, the imperative nature of God’s command stands out in Genesis 12:1. God is not just telling Abram to get going. The Hebrew phrase “לֶךְ־לְךָ֛”, meaning “Go to you” or “go by yourself.” Interestingly, the Chinese translation captures the nuance of separation within the translation which literally means “leave.”

It’s like setting off on an adventure solo, leaving behind the familiar comforts. But what exactly must Abram leave behind? His country, people, and even his father’s household—all symbols of his past entanglements. It resonates with my own experience of leaving behind the familiar shores of Hong Kong when I received the acceptance letter for my PhD program in Edinburgh.

The Obstacle

I did my early theological training in Hong Kong. Studying in a seminary was one of the most enjoyable learning experiences I’ve had. Don’t get me wrong – it was hard to juggle work, ministry, family… but learning about God is just fun. However, when I got the offer to go to Edinburgh to pursue my PhD, that is the moment I realized I really needed to leave behind some things that I had been holding onto for a very long time. The obstacle for me was more than moving to a foreign country.

In the Chinese Christian context, especially in the world of academia, being a pastor’s wife, mother, and woman scholar is not a usual combination. I grew up hearing stories about husbands getting the chance to study theology abroad and their wives simply quitting their jobs and going with them. In my case, it was just the opposite. As a pastor’s wife and a mother of a six-year-old daughter, my husband couldn’t leave his congregation for several years. To a certain extent, it was this gender role or cultural stereotype that was limiting my imagination of what was possible for me.

To embark on this journey of theology training sounded crazy to me, but God knew what I was going through. Deuteronomy 31:8 tells us, “It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you.”

As God asked me to leave behind what I have been holding on to, he also gave me a great promise of a wondrous future.

I ended up being the first mother on the faculty at my previous school, and I am glad that I am not alone here at ADC as a woman scholar and as a mother!

A Gift

By the end of the first imperative, the Lord commands Abram to leave his father’s house and go to the land that God will show him. It is interesting, though, that there are no descriptions about the promised land as it is often elaborated in Genesis. Only upon arrival, in Genesis 12:7, does God show Abram the land and make it explicit that it is to be given to his descendants.

It reminds me of one unforgettable journey I had in the UK. I struggled with my research topic proposal in my first year. The more I worked on it, the more I realized that it was not a topic that I wanted to spend the rest of my time on.

As my first-year review exam drew near, I sat down one night with a prayerful heart, and came to God for help. In those moments, I wrote down all my random research topic ideas – pages and pages of them. Then I made the trip from Edinburgh to Durham to meet with my supervisor, certain that it was going to be the last trip I had in the UK. My supervisor told me that out of the twenty-something pages I had written, with all these unorganized, random notes, he saw a very interesting idea about how Paul is addressing God in his letters. This topic later developed into my PhD thesis and my first publication.

I knew very clearly that the topic had nothing to do with how hard I was trying, or how smart or well-prepared I was. Out of the twenty pages of scribbles, a few lines were picked up. It was a gift from God, the Giver. To me, this was a humbling discovery.

It is easy to spend all our energy thinking about the best strategies for ministries, the most efficient ways of getting high marks, or the fastest route to graduate without remembering it all begins with God. The surprising absence of the land in God’s promise is a reminder. It is never about the land; it is always about God who brings Abram to the land.

A Vessel

At the end of Genesis 12:2, there is a shift from a series of “I will” to an imperative “you will be.” God’s command to Abram is “to be a blessing,” which moves the focus from Abram as recipient and emphasizes his role as agent of blessing. This concept of ‘call into being’ transcends mere occupation, it is a holistic summons to embrace who we are becoming.

God has also continually shaped and molded me to be a vessel of His mission. God’s call is not confined to individual aspirations; we are all part of his greater plan of blessing the world. God is calling every one of us to be who he created us to be, as an agent who brings his blessing to others, and as the witness for his love and glory in a fallen world.

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