“Why would God say something like THAT?”
My feisty little 7-year-old was fit to be tied. We had just finished reading a Bible story, and she was overwhelmed with what seemed to her an outrageous, unfair, one-sided, mean thing to say on the part of God.
What Abraham Can Believe
She had heard the story of Abraham, the Hebrew big shot and proverbial friend of God, who tells a lie so big I wonder if his nose might have grown a bit. The faith-filled patriarch can believe God to guide him from his comfortable home in metropolitan Ur to some undisclosed, mystery land while he wanders around tent-dwelling and cow chip-jumping with his post-menopausal wife who will somehow bear his offspring.
What Abraham Can’t Believe
But Abraham can’t believe God will spare his life once foreign men see the beauty of Sarah, his wife, since they will undoubtedly want to take her for their own.
May we all have husbands so bedazzled by our perfect facial symmetry.
So when Abraham travels to a foreign land, he tells the king that Sarah is his sister.
And he tells Sarah to say that he is her brother.
And she does.
Never mind that weird little thing about them actually being half-siblings that evokes all kinds of icky discomfort–that will have to be fodder for another day’s fire. Let’s just understand that Abraham lies to save his own rear end, and Sarah goes along with it.
The Plot Thickens
The king is delighted to hear Sarah is Abraham’s sister, and so at the suggestion of his men, he takes her to be his own wife. Now listen to how the rest of the story unfolds in the soap opera of Genesis, chapter 20:
2-3 So Abimelech, king of Gerar, sent for Sarah and took her. But God came to Abimelech in a dream that night and told him, “You’re as good as dead—that woman you took, she’s a married woman.”
4-5 Now Abimelech had not yet slept with her, hadn’t so much as touched her. He said, “Master, would you kill an innocent man? Didn’t he tell me, ‘She’s my sister’? And didn’t she herself say, ‘He’s my brother’? I had no idea I was doing anything wrong when I did this.”
6-7 God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know your intentions were pure, that’s why I kept you from sinning against me; I was the one who kept you from going to bed with her. So now give the man’s wife back to him. He’s a prophet and will pray for you—pray for your life. If you don’t give her back, know that it’s certain death both for you and everyone in your family.”
17-18 Then Abraham prayed to God and God healed Abimelech, his wife and his maidservants, and they started having babies again. For God had shut down every womb in Abimelech’s household on account of Sarah, Abraham’s wife. (Genesis 20:2-7; 17-18, The Message)
So the guy who knows God tells a big old fat one and gets the guy who doesn’t know God in trouble. But it’s the guy who doesn’t know God who is punished while the devout liar walks away unscathed.
I felt my 7-year-old’s frustration the first time I heard that story, and a whole lot of others just like it.
Seemed like God would have a better handle on his people.
Or like his people would have a better handle on God.
Or like life would work out more agreeably for people who do right things versus people who do wrong things.
Then it occurred to me that those kinds of stories are fairy tales, and that The Bible does not fall under that umbrella. God’s Word is not primarily the story of great pillars of the faith deserving of God’s praise and our imitation. It is the story of God’s grace and redemption in the life of the proud, short-sighted, unfaithful, lying, adulterous screw-ups who can’t find their way to the only porch with a light on–even with a heavenly GPS to show the way.
The pitifully imperfect.
Just like you and me.
So the next time God’s ways seem weird, be glad. He’s probably reminding us of how he is completely unlike we expect him to be, and how he does exactly what we don’t expect him to do. And drawing our attention to the outrageous, unfair, one-sided, mean things he forgives all the time.
Wherever you are, whoever you are–he will work with you!