For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that they might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? – Romans 8:29-31
I like reading the Old Testament because there’s so much in there that the Sunday School teachers left out. For example, I certainly remember hearing about how Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt but never recall hearing about how Lot offered up his daughters to a crowd of lusty perverts in exchange for the purity of two men he had just met (granted, they were angels, but did Lot know that?). We hear a lot about David and Goliath, but not quite as much about how David impregnated a married woman and then had her husband killed. We hear about how Abraham was the father of nations, and how he was willing to sacrifice his one and only son (who wasn’t actually his one and only son) but I only recently learned of how he TWICE lied to entire towns about the identity of his wife in order to ensure his own safety, never mind what happened to Sarai/Sarah.
I like reading the Old Testament because I see myself in there. In the midst of the lusty perverts, the selfish instant gratifiers, and the scared liars, I see myself. And do you know what else I see? I see a merciful God who uses those sinful guys anyway. And when I look at Abraham in Genesis 20, telling Abimelech that Sarah is his sister (which technically isn’t a lie, right?) I’m like, “Seriously, Abraham?! Geeze! Hasn’t this poor barren woman been through enough? How well did this work out last time?” But of course it worked out pretty well for Abraham last time, what with all of the sheep and goats and what not. I can’t imagine Sarah enjoyed being passed from one man to another as much as her husband enjoyed the livestock.
But it’s in the midst of Abraham’s lie (that’s not technically a lie) that I see myself, exemplifying insanity as Einstein defined it – doing the same thing while expecting different results. Believing Satan’s lies that this time the sin will be worth it, that this time it won’t feel so bad, that it’s not really hurting anyone. And what blows my mind is how God reacts. First of all, he rats Abraham out to Abimelech in a dream in a rather threatening way.
But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.” – Genesis 20:3
Wow. Uh, okay. Scary. Didn’t know, God, sorry.
Then God says this:
“Now then, return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, so that he will pray for you, and you shall live. But if you do not return her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.” – Genesis 20:7
At this point I feel kinda bad for Abimelech. Like he says in verse 5 of Genesis 20, Abimelech was told Sarah was Abraham’s sister, not his wife. It’s clear that God takes adultery seriously. He threatens to kill Abimelech if he doesn’t return Sarah to her husband. What we don’t see, however, is God threatening, punishing, or even chastising Abraham for lying. What we do see, is God suggesting that Abimelech have this liar responsible for his (near) adulterous sin pray for him. And again, I see myself. Because I am that liar. And STILL God is sending people to me asking that I pray for them. Still God is entrusting me with little lives and asking me to teach them about how He loves us. I am the one sending my wife off to live with strange men because I’m afraid of what they might do to me. I am the one benefitting from this discomfort of others. I am the one looking out for my own interest. And yet…
I am the one being used by God.
It’s insane that I can be both so totally hopelessly lost and not at all getting it while at the same time smack dab in the middle of the conformed/justified/glorified process Paul spoke of in Romans 8. It’s so easy to idolize “the greats” and gloss over their mistakes – not just the biblical greats but those alive-today-human-friends we idolize in our own lives. It’s easy to assume that everyone else is actually really great at not sinning and we are alone in our miserable cycles of stupidity. But you’re not. You’re not alone. You’re in the best of company, actually.
- The Israelites – When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us… – Exodus 32:1 Moses was gone for a little over a month and everyone goes nuts. Yet this was God’s chosen people! And He never gave up on them no matter how much they messed up or doubted (which was a lot).
- King David, ancestor of Jesus – It happened, late one afternoon, when David… saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful. And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, “Is not this Bathsheba… the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” So David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her… – 2 Samuel 11:2-4 David wasn’t where he was supposed to be, shirking his responsibilities, when he saw something (well, someone) he wasn’t supposed to see and he decided that since nobody could say no to the king and nobody would know, he might as well sleep with someone else’s wife. Once David hears that Bathsheba is pregnant, he tries to get Uriah to have sex with his wife so nobody knows the baby isn’t his, but Uriah is too noble and dedicated so David puts him in the forefront of battle so he’s sure to die. Great move, author of 70+ Psalms.
- Jonah, huge whiney baby of a prophet – But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord… When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them… But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. Jonah 1:3, 3:10-4:1 Jonah didn’t want to tell the Ninevites about the merciful God who wanted to save them from themselves because he knew God actually would do that if they repented and in Jonah’s eyes, those filthy Ninevites didn’t deserve grace like he did. He pouts about how he’d rather be dead than see them saved, how he’d rather be dead than live without his plant (Jonah 4:1, 9) and God still used him to save an entire city.
- Peter, disciple and doubter – And Peter answered him, “Lord if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” – Matthew 14:28-31 Peter was living the dream, walking on water, and he let fear and uncertainty and doubt ruin the moment. Sound familiar? I know I can relate.
- Peter (again) – From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan You are a hindrance to me.” – Matthew 16:21-23 Peter thinks his way is better than God’s way and tries to stop the greatest, most wonderful, and more terrible thing that ever happened – the crucifixion of Jesus. Jesus told Peter that he was being a hindrance and yet He still kept him around.
Need I go on?
I’ve heard about how God saves people from their circumstances and stupidity (Paul was straight up murdering Jesus followers and then God saved him to become the first and sassiest missionary of all time) but it’s food for my soul to see how God continues to save us in the midst of our circumstances and stupidity. When He’s in, He’s all in for the long haul, until the justification and glorification He promised is complete, and we are conformed to the image of His perfect Son.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?