Now, I think that we have given Abraham and Sarah a bad rap for the issue of Ishmael. Let me explain. We know that Abraham was called of God at 75 years old. We aren’t sure exactly how long they took to go to Egypt and back, not to mention rescue Abraham’s nephew, Lot. After that, God promises that a son from his loins will inherit his estate and become the first of a great nation of people. God doesn’t necessarily say that the son will come through Sarah. Then, for an unspecified length of time, perhaps a decade or more, there is a radio silence. What are we left to do with that silence? Who do we blame?
Honestly, if I was Abraham, I might not have approached the situation much differently. Sarah’s request seems reasonable. People back in that day had surrogate descendants, if you will, all the time.
And, as far as faith goes, I can’t find anything particularly wrong with the response of Sarah and Abraham. They didn’t disobey God explicitly. The only issue I have with Sarah and this is the way she frames her situation: “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant…” When hiking along a precariously high mountain, 6 inches to the right or to the left can result in a fall of 1000 feet, and here in the statement of Sarah, we see the crucial misstep.
We assume a dangerous role and walk a precarious tightrope when we presume to interpret God’s silence. Sarah would not have been wrong to say that God had not given her any children yet, but to ascribe her barrenness to the work of God crosses a subtle but significant line. Truly, we have no idea what caused her inability to have children up until that point. It could have been Satan. It could have been some physical deformity that she inherited genetically, or maybe even be lingering effects of a sickness or disease. Whatever the cause, she ascribed it to God.
It’s an insidious way to frame the situation because of the way it reflects upon the nature of God. Let’s follow this to the logical conclusion. If God desires to open the womb of Sarah and to give her a child, but he is also the one responsible for making her barren, then he is either sadistic or bipolar–sadistic in that he desires to see her suffer before helping her, or bipolar in that he decides to keep her from having children for several decades and then completely changes his mind on the issue. Now we know that neither is true, that God is a good Father, and that he had one plan from the beginning: to provide an heir through the womb of Sarah and the loins of Abraham.
The frame game does not end there, though. I believe it’s equally as important, though much easier to mess up on, to realize we must not blame the victim either. In the back of our minds, once we take the blame off God, we often gently and quietly place upon Sarah and Abraham that Sarah was barren for the first 90 years of her life.… but God doesn’t say that either. Here’s what God does say: “At the very time God had promised him…” Even after 25 years of waiting, 25 years of the grinding process of choosing to hope and have faith, God was right on time. I cannot adequately emphasize this point, that on the one hand we must not frame God as the reason for sickness, yet neither can we frame it as continual evidence of our own personal failure. The fact is, we just don’t know. We must be OK in not knowing and allow that fire of injustice in our hearts to cause us to press in deeper to the knowledge of God. All we know is what God DID say.
Here are a few observations when it comes to believing God for healing miracles:
– Unless–and until–God specifically gives us a timetable, he is not bound to our timetable.
– Assume God means exactly what he says. Compromising on this point led to what is perhaps Abraham’s greatest failure.
– Calling your sickness the work of God implies illegitimate (pun intended) solutions
Stay blameless, my friends