When we stand east of Eden with Adam and Eve because we couldn’t keep our hands off forbidden fruit, weeping over lost loves, lost chances, lost lives...
The only person who named God in the Old Testament was an unmarried, pregnant refugee. A woman on the run. A slave with zero rights. An outsider who was the victim of an old man and old woman who took advantage of her young womb to make a child they could claim as their own.
Some of the best people I know are not Christians. Many of them are followers of other religions, some of them are non-religious, and a few of them are atheists. They’re the kind of friends who always have my back. They’re gracious to me when I mess up. I couldn’t ask for better neighbors.
When God comes to us, He brings more than we expect. Our expectations are tiny, His gifts large. We ask for a drop, He pours an ocean; for a morsel, He spreads a feast.
Our children learn the Sunday School song, “Father Abraham had many sons, and many sons had father Abraham.” But we would do well to teach them to sing, “Father Abraham had many sins, and many sins had father Abraham.” For though he was a patriarch and prophet, Abraham also left behind a legacy of deceit.
They are the only couple in the Bible who laugh at God. Abraham first and later his wife, Sarah. And who could blame them, for the scenario is hilarious. They wait a quarter of a century for God to make good on his promise to give them a child. It seems a comedy in the making, for Abraham is seventy five years old and Sarah sixty five when he first makes the promise. People that old don’t buy Pampers. But there stood God, saying, “Oh, but you will.” So they wait. And they wait. For twenty five years these aging lovebirds do their lovemaking but no babymaking. The final time God assures them that they’ll have a son, Abraham falls on his face and laughs (Gen 17:17) and Sarah, later, giggles like a schoolgirl (18:12). Quite fittingly, therefore, when their baby boy is born the next year, they name him, “Laughter.” Or as we know him, Isaac. I’m glad Abraham and Sarah could laugh. I think most of us wouldn’t have found this scenario all that funny. In fact, when we wait on God to make good on his promises, even for a few weeks or months, we don’t laugh. We hurt. We murmur. Often we get mad at God for dragging his feet.
It is perhaps no surprise that one of the most common questions in the Psalms is, “O Lord, how long….?” Now there’s a prayer we can say Amen to.
O Lord, how long until you take away the cancer that’s attacking my body? O Lord, how long will I get turned away from every company I apply to? O Lord, how long will my child be in and out of rehab? O Lord, how long will my husband and I languish in this dying marriage? O Lord, how long will your drag your feet while our souls are sinking in despair?
For most of us, waiting on God is not funny at all. It makes us wonder if he cares. If he has forgotten us. In our darkest hours, many even wonder if the atheists are right, if our prayers are nothing more than sick words vomited into an empty heaven.
Here is the truth: God is there. God does care. Heaven is not empty but full of a God who thinks of nothing but you night and day. As Isaiah says, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you,” (49:15). God does indeed remember, but his remembering is unique. It has one ultimate goal: to join you, body and soul, to the body and soul of Jesus Christ.
Every time we pray, “O Lord, how long?” the answer is always the same: “You have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God,” (Col 3:3). You may object, “But that’s no answer!” Oh, but it is. It is a true answer, and it is the best answer.
God doesn’t give us a timetable; he gives us his Son. And for him we don’t have to wait a single second. You have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. It’s already accomplished. The Father plunged you into the water wet with Jesus. In that water you joined Christ on the cross. There your old life bled away. And there your new life began as Jesus carried you in his body out of the grave on Easter. Your life is hidden the way a heart and lungs and bones and blood are hidden inside a person, for you are the body of Christ. You are hidden in him and hidden with him in the Father. And if you’re that far into God, there’s no getting you out.
So will the Father answer your specific “How long?” prayers? Of course he will. He who asks, receives; he who seeks, finds; she who knocks, the door will be opened to her. The God who goes so far as to count your tears and keep them in a bottle (Ps 56:8) is certainly not going to ignore your pleas for mercy. But as you await the answer to those prayers, know that your prayers have already have been answered in Christ. Your life, your heartaches, your tears and disappointments—they are all hidden with Christ in God, too. He takes them all in when he takes you into himself.
The ways of God are hilarious. So outlandish, so crazy, so foolish that sometimes the only thing we can do is laugh. There we were, dead, and now in Christ we live. There we were, thinking there’s no way we’ll ever conceive hope again, and now hope grows within us like Isaac in Sarah’s womb. It’s funny, the weird ways of God. He’s always full of surprises, for there’s nothing more surprising in this world than a love that knows no bounds, no timetables, but that knows you and holds you tight.
Sometimes the best Amen sounds like laughter.
“He who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” Matthew 10:37
She is never mentioned in Genesis 22. God is, Abraham is, Isaac is, but Sarah is missing from the story. Did she know that God had decided to test her husband? Was she aware that this testing was the sacrifice of their one and only son? When she kissed Isaac goodbye for this odd journey to the land of Moriah, did she have any notion that God had commanded her husband to lay their son atop an altar, sink a knife into his heart, and burn his body to ashes? We don’t know what Sarah knew.
We do know that, after the story is over, after Abraham passes the test, after Isaac is spared when the blade is in midair, that Sarah dies. Jewish tradition sees no coincidence in the fact that her passing in Genesis 23 follows immediately after her son’s near-sacrifice in Genesis 22. When it says, “Sarah died…and Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her,” (23:2), it means that Abraham went from Mount Moriah to mourn for her. These traditions suggest that, when this mother heard of what was to take place on that mountain, assuming as she did that Isaac would in fact be sacrificed, she cried out and breathed her last. Her son was her life, therefore, his death was her death.
“Children are a gift of the Lord,” the Psalmist sings. Oh, indeed, they are. A parent’s heart is inextricably bound to the heart of his child. We can understand why, according to Jewish tradition, this mother died upon hearing of the assumed death of her boy. Likewise, we can hear the depth of agony seeping through the cracks in David’s broken heart as he cries out, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son, my son Absalom! Would that I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33). I think I speak for most mothers and fathers when I say that my greatest fear is the death of one of my children.
This parent-to-child love makes it all the harder to hear Jesus’ words in the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday: “He who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” Matthew 10:37. It is certainly fitting that Jesus immediately adds, “He who does not take up his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.” These words do indeed feel like a heavy cross to bear.
But what does it mean to love someone or something more than we love Jesus? It means that they who were formed as a gift we transform into a god. You see, idols are not mere blocks of wood or stone before whom pagans kneel; idols are beloved things, beloved people, whom we fear or love or trust more than God. We are all, at heart, idolaters, for we are prone to turn presents from heaven into the presence of divinity on earth. We break no commandment more than the first, “You shall have no other gods.” In fact, every law we break is also a breaking of the first, for if our hearts truly and wholly belonged to the Lord, we would keep the whole law. Because we do not fear, love, and trust in Him above all things, all things become opportunities for sin, including the gifts of sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, husbands and wives. Focus on the family can easily devolve into a mis-focus of gifts as gods.
We do not love these gifts less by loving Jesus more. Quite the contrary. The deeper our love for God, the deeper also shall be our love for our children. Love is the embodiment of a life lived in and for another. Love toward children or parents or spouses goes idolatrously wrong not when we love them too much, but when we love them too little. For how can love be true love when it stands against the God who is love itself? How can I say I love my child when I make him into an idol? How can I say I love my wife when I love her more than I love God? No, I am not loving too much when I’m committing idolatry; I’m loving too little, for it is the selfish, self-loving side of me that compels me toward the transformation of gifts into gods.
That is why my life constantly returns, indeed revolves around, the man from Nazareth who hangs between heaven and earth, painting the world white by bleeding wounds. There, in that dying God, I find not only the very incarnation of love, but forgiveness for all my self-love. In that God all my gods die. In Him I die. And as I lose my life, and His love finds me, I gain life in His giving love. I have no other gods besides Jesus Christ, because He is God of gods, Lord of lords, who deepens my love for Himself by pouring His love into me. And that love of Christ flows from me to others: to my children, to my wife, even to my enemies.
I will never be worthy of Christ, but Christ has counted me worthy by loving me even unto death, even death on a cross. "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing," (Revelation 5:12). Worthy is this Isaac, who carried His own wood to the mountaintop, where He was not spared but given up for us all, that all in Him might become the chosen sons of the Father. Worthy is He, and worthy are we in Him, to receive life and forgiveness and salvation and honor and heaven and blessing, now and forever, and unto ages of ages.