37 But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. 38 Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.” 39 Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” 40 For they no longer dared to ask him any question (Lk 20:37-40).
This passage has puzzled commentators. They aren’t clear on how Jesus derives his conclusion from his source material.
I suspect the explanation is hiding in plain sight. The problem is that commentators need to use a wide-angle lens rather than a close-up shot. They need to back up.
Scripture calls Abraham God’s friend or God’s beloved (cf. 2 Chron 20:7; Isa 41:8; Jas 2:23). The point is not that Abraham was a friend to God, but that God was a friend to Abraham. God befriended Abraham. God took the initiative.
When God called Abraham out of Ur, God was befriending Abraham. Making Abraham his friend. When God entered into covenant with Abraham, God was being a friend to Abraham. When God forgave him and justified him, God was showing love for Abraham. Had God not called Abraham out of Ur, Abraham would have lived and died in paganism. Ignorant of the true God. Sunken in sin. Mired in idolatry.
Was God merely using Abraham as a means to an end? No. God cared about Abraham.
God uses some people as merely a means to an end. Pharaoh is a case in point. But Pharaoh never was God’s friend. Rather, he was God’s foil.
What does it mean to be a friend to someone? You care for them. You’re concerned for their welfare. You care about what happens to them. You try to spare them from harm.
What kind of friend would God be to Abraham if, after coming into his life, awakening him, making himself known to Abraham, he let Abraham suffer the ultimate calamity of oblivion? What kind of friend would God be to Abraham if he allowed Abraham to pass into nothing, like dry, burning grass? Why befriend Abraham, only to let that goes to waste?
In human relations, we can’t anticipate the outcome. Some friendships end badly, in betrayal. Animosity. We feel worse about them than if we never got to know them. If we’d known that’s how it was going to turn out, we wouldn’t befriend them in the first place. Wouldn’t invest all that emotional capital in a doomed relationship.
Some friendships end sadly. We may have known a person since kindergarten or first grade. He lived just up the street. We used to be so close.
But then, in junior high, he got hooked on drugs. He was in and out of rehab, but never able to shake the habit. We watch him commit slow-motion suicide. We watch him self-destruct, as we stand by helplessly. We see him cease to become the person we knew, except for painful moments when his old self briefly emerges. If we’d know that’s how it was going to end, we’d keep our distance. Unfortunately, the best we can do is often not enough. Not nearly enough.
But God knows, when he befriends someone, how that will come out. Indeed, how that comes out is up to God. God can prevent Abraham from perishing. Save Abraham from annihilation.
Would God permit his friend to face the Last Enemy alone? Defenseless? Would God permit the Last Enemy to win?