“God seems cruel,”said Angela over dinner. While agitating, poking and stirring her food around the plate she clamored, “I don’t like that story. I just don’t like waiting.” Angela, a female physician seated next to her husband and across from me, began shifting in her chair uncomfortably. “I don’t get it. Why did God make Sarah wait so long?” Angela and her husband’s childless marriage colliding with Sarah’s story resonated with her own painful struggle.
When I began to teach a class on Abraham and Sarah, I shared our common surprise when God often requires his chosen people to wait. Typical was Angela’s reaction to Sarah’s interminable waiting (until she was 90 and post-menopausal) to have the child she desperately wanted 50 years prior.
What did God want from Abraham and Sarah? Packing all of their things, leaving their country and relatives to go to a place God said, “I will show you,” appears a substantial test of faith for a couple God called from worshiping idols. Was this “wait 50 years-for-a-child” test simply too much? Unlike the disciples facing the storm on the sea of Galilee, it was not an acute crisis faith that lasted an hour, but a long, painful, day after day faith, as months, then years… then decades passed, and not just a few decades, five!
Consider some of the things that would have made these difficult years as Sarah waited for a child:
- Sarah was Abraham’s half-sister, same father but different mother. Likely the daughter of a concubine. She didn’t have the same legitimacy status as Abraham, earnestly wanting to seal her worth as a woman by having a child.
- Abram means “Exalted Father” while Abraham means “Father of Nations. Certainly this irony was not lost on their friends, neighbors and visitors. The first thing guests would have noticed was the absence of the signs and sounds of children, excluding Sarah from her portion of the promise in her husband’s name. Sarah was probably accustomed to feeling shame whenever someone came to visit.
- If Sarah had been a mother she would never have been asked by Abraham to “say you are my sister” on two different occasions. This little white lie landed her in a harem on both times. Surely she wrestled with thoughts and feelings as she entered each harem, never to see her family again? Had she been fertile with her husband, she would not have had to bear that shame.
- Abraham twice receives valuable property in exchange for Sarah as he sells her into a harem, where she will live out her days as a sex-slave. Abraham never expects to see her again as nobody leaves a harem alive. When confronted, Abraham claims to have done it to save his own life. Since there are 318 fighting men in his army, is he honestly afraid for his life, or is he trying to get rid of her because she is barren? Even the King of Gerar is dumbfounded and asks him, “What did you see here that would make you do such a thing?” What was the conversation like between Abraham and Sarah when she is brought back rejected from Pharaoh’s harem? Ouch! That rejection adds even more pain, shame and humiliation into her life. While I cannot answer the question of why God would allow anyone to wait for his or her dreams or to suffer embarrassment, shame or derision, I know that God is not cruel. Whenever I don’t have a satisfying answer to “Why?” questions, I like to ask, “What?” questions. What did God plan for Sarah to do all those years while she was waiting for a child? Perhaps more importantly, what does God want me to do while I am waiting?
Consider some things Sarah could have done:
- Help Hagar. God gave Sarah a child but not the one she wanted. He gave her an orphaned child and apparently not a particularly nice child. All the time they were together, Sarah never saw Hagar as anything but property. Sarah was the closest thing Hagar had to a parent as she was totally vulnerable and had no one else looking out for her interests. Hagar didn’t want to bear Sarah’s child, she wanted her own. Hagar didn’t want Sarah’s husband, she wanted her own. What if Sarah had poured love and kindness into the orphaned Hagar and given her what she wanted for herself – her own children. Abraham had 318 men “born in his house.” Sarah could have arranged for Hagar to marry and have her own children but she didn’t. It would have delighted the heart of God and saved her a lot of pain. Where is your Hagar? Is there someone to whom you can bless and give the very thing for which you wait? You may not have considered this person because of their arrogance. There is no greater faith than blessing another with the very thing for which you are waiting, knowing that you serve a God of abundance. Could God be calling you to supernatural faith?
- Pray and listen. Relationship has always been God’s desire for his children, between He and us. We have no record of Sarah praying for a child, although it is likely that she did, regularly. We do read that Isaac prays for Rebekah and she conceives after 20 years of barrenness. Rebekah also goes to “inquire of The LORD,” which demonstrates that it is possible in that culture to query God when you wanted to know. Moving toward God into a deeper relationship would seem counter-intuitive when Sarah felt cursed, but that is exactly what God wanted her do, and us as well, when we feel that He is distant or uncaring.
- Seek out a man or woman of prayer. God also desires, out of our relationship with Him, that we engage in relationships with others. It is likely that Melchizedek was in the area. It takes humility to admit that the problem is serious enough to ask others to pray for us. Find those with compassion to join you in your struggle, especially those who have struggled and persisted through to the other side with God.
- Focus on God’s promises. God had given the precious promise of a son to Abraham on several occasions. To keep it fresh they needed to talk about it through the decades, sing about it and even cry about it. They could have continually reminding one another of the promise of God before them and us helping the fight against doubts, especially when the answers don’t seem evident. Do you keep God’s promises before you to bolster your faith? We, as Abraham’s spiritual heirs, have his promises.
Like Sarah in the Bible and Angela the physician, most of us are waiting for something and we are neither hopeless nor helpless while we wait. But it doesn’t often feel that way in the waiting. Nobody drifts to the top of a mountain; it takes planning, discipline and effort to climb. There is much to be done in concert with God and others while we wait for our dreams and more importantly, God’s design for us. Sarah’s dream came true and she spent 37 years with her own, birthed son, Isaac. (She lived to 127.) If you expectantly wait on God and your dream comes true you will revel in His provision and answer. If you complain, develop a bitter spirit, focusing on all the years in the waiting, you may miss the blessing. When I see Him face to face, God will not apologize for not fulfilling my expectations or desires, be it marriage, job, or having a child in this life. Instead, he will ask me, “While you were focused on these things, did you see any of the blessings I sent you?” Indeed, when I focus on the “big things” I want, I tend to take for granted and miss the daily blessings God sends me. When I focus on gratitude for what I already have, and the blessings that arrive daily, I find myself living with more joy, which is contagious. Can we wait and rest in the security of God’s timing and plan, His way? He is capable to perform miracles if necessary to accomplish His goals in our lives. He wanted and did answer Sarah’s prayers to bear her own child. Can you imagine the sweetness of joy as Sarah held her answer given her through impossible means by her magnificent God? Only 50 years of waiting could have produced such contagious, glorious joy! And I’ll bet she would say “It was a miracle worth the wait!”.
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