Thursday, April 20, 2006

If I Do God's Will, Will Life Go Well?

We Christians often talk about walking with God, and walking by faith. But what does that mean? What might it look like?

A few weeks ago, at the MPPC men's retreat, we got a great illustration from Genesis: the life of Abraham. The following is only loosely based on what was presented there, 'cause I don't have my notes with me.

OK, here goes.

The Lord had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you." (Genesis 12.1)

There's a bold move -- no map, no schedule, no destination -- but an astonishing promise of blessing.

So what happens when he gets there? "Now there was a famine in the land" (12.10). Great -- he's got a promise of blessing, but on his way there, he hits a famine and moves to Egypt.

What must Abraham have thought? He left civilization as he knew it for the promise of something great, but he meets with famine and apparently takes a detour -- a detour to Egypt. He tells his wife, "Say you are my sister, so... my life will be spared because of you." (12.13). Famine, then moral failure.

He gets rich, but family problems develop. "And quarreling arose between Abram's herdsmen and the herdsmen of (Abe's nephew) Lot" (13.7), so they split up.

Next up: war! "The four kings ... carried off Abram's nephew Lot and his possessions." (14.11-12) Kidnapping, too.

God promised him descendants like the sand on the seashore, but at age 85, there are still no children. He does what seems like the normal thing to do, given what God told him: "He slept with (his wife's maidservant) Hagar, and she conceived." (16.4). In due course she bears a son, but he finds out from God that this isn't the heir of the promise.

The scriptures list several other events, including the command to sacrifice his son Isaac, that in my life would have caused a real spiritual crisis. But I think we have enough here to make a point:

Following God's will does not mean things will go well -- even for Abraham! When God introduces himself to Moses, he calls himself "the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob" (Exodus 3.18); Abraham is called "God's friend" (James 2.23). Can you imagine that -- having a biblical author call you "God's friend", or having God identify himself as "the God of <your name here>, Isaac, and Jacob"?

And yet he meets famine, his own moral failure, family strife, war and kidnapping, and a major mistake in understanding God's will.

If these things happen to God's friend when he follows God's will, why do we think things should go well for us?

And when things don't go well, why do we think it wasn't God's will? Well, I guess we could wonder, but famine, war, kidnapping [etc] don't prove I'm not following God's will.

Which reminds me of someone's history that I read about. (I don't know this guy personally, so if I know you, this isn't about you.)
He met her at Bible school. They fell in love, and after much prayer and consultation with parents, friends, and [other] spiritual advisers (pastors, etc.), decided to get married. Ten or fifteen years later, their marriage is feeling a little rocky, and one day she tells him she's actually a lesbian. She leaves him and their children, and moves in with her lover. Within a few months, she kills herself. Now the kids are basket cases and so is this man.
Suppose this guy asks, "Was it really God's will that we get married?"

On one hand, I can see why he'd ask -- I mean, I would. And yet, even that unimaginable amount of suffering does not necessarily imply that he was out of God's will.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. ... Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4.7-11,16-18
In other words, "Not necessarily."

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