Today, I feel much like this picture. Dry. Barren (in multiple senses of that word). It’s a day where I intellectually know God exists and he sent his son Jesus to rescue me. It’s the only way my brain can make any sense out of this crazy world. But, today I’m having a hard time emotionally relating to a God I cannot see, touch, or quantify.
A couple of the Bible passages for this week talk about Abraham and the promise. Genesis 12 is the story of Abraham first receiving the God’s promise. God promises to make Abraham into a great nation, to bless him, make him a blessing, and through Abraham, everybody on earth will be blessed by God. And Abraham sets out into the great unknown with his wife and nephew after receiving this word from God. Romans 4 talks about Abraham’s faith in God’s promise, and how that faith is attributed to Abraham as righteousness, or freedom from guilt or sin.
But, reading further through Genesis, Abraham does have some questions for God about this promise. Abraham has a picture of what the promise should look like, and that picture doesn’t match up with Abraham’s reality. Abraham sets out into the unknown, and runs into trouble in Egypt. He’s afraid he’ll get killed if he claims Sarai as his wife, so he lies about her (causing more problems). Then, later, still childless and petulant, he starts questioning God about how this promise is actually going to come about. He gets a few answers, but still doesn’t see the promise happening according to his vision. So then, Abraham tries to make the promise happen. He takes his wife’s servant and has a child, Ishmael, with her. Which again, just causes more problems for everyone–particularly Hagar and Ishmael. Then God reiterates his promise to Abraham–only this promise doesn’t happen through Ishmael (though God will take care of him as well). And Abraham is old at this point, and just laughs at the idea of actually having a son with Sarah at this point. God’s working out of his promise looks nothing like what Abraham thinks it should.
And in reality, I find myself a lot like Abraham. I get busy trying to make sense out of my life, and I feel frustrated. I am childless. And given the teaching I had in sex ed classes in high school and college, I shouldn’t be. But, that’s not my reality. And it’s frustrating to want something badly, to feel prepared for it, and to have it not ever materialize. And I think I’m frustrated mostly because I don’t know how my faith should inform my current situation.
I don’t want to make the same mistake that Abraham did–to interpret God’s promises through the lens of what I want and how it should happen. To have blind faith in my vision of God, and wind up bitter at the way God hasn’t made my life the way I think it should. And I don’t at the same time want to rule out the possibility that God could help me be pregnant or want me to be so. Wrestling with these 2 tensions is like trying to stand on the middle of a see-saw.
And then alongside the see-sawing issue is the question about whether I’m overspiritualizing an issue. (Because I think that’s possible too.) By overspiritualizing, I mean thinking God is at the root of why I’m not pregnant or whether I will be. It could just be bad luck or rotten circumstance. I’m not a person who believes that God pulls puppet master strings over every detail in the universe; somethings yes, but not everything. And my wrestling with this issue, sort of makes me think of myself as the center of the universe. And the reality is that I am important and loved by God, but I’m not only one in the world who is important and loved by God. The world is not centered on me.
But, I will say this for Abraham: Abraham always accepts what God has to say. It may not make sense, and God may not do things the way Abraham expects. But, Abraham always listens and takes God seriously. Abraham does question God as Abraham encounters a reality that conflicts with his vision–but Abraham still believes when God speaks. And that gives me a different picture of faith than I had previously held.