Monday, 4 August 2014

Dysfunctional Homes: Abraham's and Ours?

I was thinking about Abraham and God’s promises to him and how very long it seemed to take from the time God made the promise until it came to fruition. Waiting those roughly twenty-five years like Abraham did, I’m not so sure I would have remained as much a believer in the promise as he is credited as having done.

Would you have? Let’s think about it …

When Abraham was about 75 years old, his dad just died at the ripe old age of 205, and God called him to go to Canaan. God also then promises him many descendants. It’s safe to say that both Abraham and his wife Sarah wanted children, but Sarah was barren, and that obviously presented a problem. Still, the Bible says that Abraham believed God.

About ten years later, when Abraham was now about 85 years old, the promised son had not yet arrived. Sarah, well, she gets somewhat impatient and suggests that Abraham sleep with Hagar, her slave, and try and have a son by her. While it may have been legal in that society for Abraham to do so, it was not in the will of God for him to do so. But Abraham goes ahead and does what his wife suggests, and sleeps with Hagar. Perhaps Abraham was getting a little impatient by then too. The whole thing almost sounds like an episode of TV’s “Sister Wives.”

Another year passes and Abraham is now about 86 years old, Hagar becomes pregnant, and Sarah becomes jealous! Things become so difficult in the home that Sarah throws Hagar out. Talk about your dysfunctional home! But the Lord intervenes and sends Hagar back, promising to take care of her. Soon she gives birth to a son and Abraham names him Ishmael.

Fast-forward another thirteen years, and Abraham turns 99 years old and Ishmael becomes a teenager. I am tempted to wonder if during those thirteen years of watching his son grow if Abraham forgot the promise of God. If he didn’t, perhaps he came to believe that the promise was already fulfilled in Ishmael. After all, when Sarah suggested Abraham take Hagar, she did so believing that any children born to Hagar would by default become Sarah’s children. Just when I imagine Abraham and Sarah believing that, God speaks again and once again promises Abraham that he would have a son by Sarah. Soon after, God also reaffirms the same promise to Sarah as well.

Another year goes by and Abraham celebrates his centennial and turns 100 years old. Now, after twenty-five years have come and gone since God first spoke to Abraham and told him to go to Canaan, the promised son is finally born. He is named “Isaac,” which means “laughter.” And yet I wonder if Abraham even thought of himself as being too old to become a father. After all, he was still 30 years younger than his own father was when he was born.

But the drama continues and Isaac’s birth now creates a new problem at home, in that the now 14 year-old Ishmael suddenly has a rival for dad’s attention! For 14 years Ishmael has been his father’s only son, and of course, he no doubt was very special to him. Have you ever wondered how Ishmael responded to the latest course of events in the home? Probably much like any other spoiled only child today would do.

Three more years slip by, Abraham is now about 103 years of age, and there is a weaning-party taking place in the home. A what? That’s right; a weaning-party. It was customary in those days to wean children at about age three and turn the event into a celebration. By now Ishmael has become a rebellious 17 year-old teenager, and I imagine created more than enough trouble at home. There seemed to be only one solution to the problem; Hagar and her son would have to go! With a broken heart, the 103 year-old Abraham sends his son packing, and forces him to move out of the family home.

Let’s stop there and unpack some of that.

On the surface this story appears to be nothing more than the dynamics of a dysfunctional family unit. In truth, it could have been any of our family stories; each of us could probably relate to multiple elements within it. We could probably all think of times that we thought we heard God speak to us, and when things later went a little south, perhaps we either became disbelievers or we wondered if we had heard God correctly in the first place. Many of us could perhaps relate to the infertility issues. Many of us might have had to face the reality of a spouse sleeping around. Even though Sarah gave her blessing to the union of her husband to Hagar, you can’t tell me that didn’t hurt knowing of the intimacy that had taken place with the other woman. Instead of waiting on the Lord, many of us have also run ahead of God, to only afterward ask God’s blessing on our Ishmael’s, the fruit of our impatience. Many of us have had wayward teenagers, and perhaps even have had to endure the pain of asking them to move out of our home. Perhaps like me, you too were the rebellious 17 year-old, who voluntarily or involuntarily, left your parents home at that young tender age. Perhaps we too have struggled with a dysfunctional home.

It is easy to look at biblical characters as people so much greater spiritually than we are. I’ve sometimes thought that about the people listed in Hebrews 11, those who were commended for their faith. But when we look at the life of Abraham, we see that it wasn’t all rosy and super-spiritual in his home any more than it is or was in ours. Just like ours, his too sometimes played out like a soap opera, and yet God was still clearly in the story.

I take comfort in that when things go sideways in my own life and I’m tempted to beat myself up for yet another blunder in my own spiritual pilgrimage. Even when I do something stupid, and everything maybe even feels hopeless, God has not left me, and He has made some pretty big promises to me too, just like He did to Abraham. In the same way, though there may seem to be nothing but a massive grey cloud hanging over your head, God has not abandoned you either, my friend. In His great love for you through Jesus, He has some awesome promises for you too. Be encouraged.

There are an interesting couple of verses that I’m going to close with and let us meditate on. They read,
These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” (Hebrews 11: 39-40; NIV).
Somehow we’ve been included in Abraham’s story. Could it be that even Abraham himself hasn’t yet received the fullness of the promise of God, and won’t receive it until the end of the age when he does so in fellowship together with you and me? I wonder. Something to think about.

Peace and blessings to you and yours.

Photo Credit: Ashley Rose, Flickr Creative Commons

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