A few decades ago I am watching a pianist, a close friend, accompany a choir’s rehearsal. He is a brilliant technician, sight-reading well enough to lead the ensemble through its first look with no faux pas of any substance. I comment on the impressive showing, and in a nod to humility he lets me in on a secret. When a progression’s pace and complexity is beyond his ability, he drops everything internal to play only the highest and lowest notes of each hand. It is simple: mechanically, because he can forget every finger but the thumb and pinky on each hand—in a pinch, all but the pinky; mentally, because he need only observe the outermost notes in each staff. And, whether because it brackets the vocal range or actually preserves enough sense of the key itself, the technique completely satisfies the choir’s need.
Faith connects eternity with moments, immutable realities with acts of obedience carrying change in their nature. Because of his faith in an eternal promise, Abraham obeys the command to leave his earthly home and journey to a new and unknown one (Hebrews 11:8-10). And because he believes the promise that Isaac will be his eternal heir, Abraham obeys the command to offer the boy on Moriah (Hebrews 11:17-19).
In the frenzied progression of that test, Abraham has no idea of the internal chord structure God is playing through him. His best guess is that God will bring Isaac back from the dead. Despite Hebrews’ author’s generous interpretation that Abraham does receive Isaac back from the dead in metaphor, in actuality Abraham’s guess is wrong. The notes internal to his chord, the ones he had to ignore while telling his servants that he and the boy would return soon enough, include the voice of an angel and a ram caught in a thicket. Yet Abraham is a model of obedience, God recording the notes he plays so we can learn to sing our lives following his pattern.
While we may not anticipate quickly and correctly the internal details of “the good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10b), we can see clearly and fully the top tones, the heavenly and immutable notes of God’s mercy, love, and grace (Ephesians 2:4-6). And we can see just as clearly the bottom tones, the simple acts of obedience succeeding one another as notes of humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearance (Ephesians 4:2).
By faith (faithfulness) we bridge what is eternal in scripture, prayer, contemplation, and worship with what is otherwise fleeting in experience, encounter, conversation, and relationship. We bring nothing but our pinkies, and God fills in each chord’s details, wildly exceeding the nuance or complexity of Franz Liszt’s finest performance.
To a week obeying what God shows us, trusting him for the rest.