Many years ago, Margaret Hopper Taylor, who had served many years as a Presbyterian missionary to Japan, struggled through a painful and fatal illness. She wrote a piece of prose entitled “Lament” which begins with her complaints and questions:
O Ruler of the universe, there drops before me a dark curtain shutting out the light of years ahead I had hoped to spend on Your beautiful earth. The physicians say my body houses a killer disease. They have no cures. Earth’s healers cannot heal. Their treatment is painful and debilitates. This frame that has carried me where I wished to go for 60 years now totters and weakens. Physical pain and lethargy I can bear, but am I never to see the ethereal glory of the cherry trees across the sea unwrap their heavenly beauty again? Will the emerald isles of the Inland Sea not rise once more before my eyes? Is the handclasp of friends soon to be no more? How can I say goodbye to the sons of my womb and their children? Heaviest of all is the thought of the final closing of my eyes on the loved face of my life’s partner, who cares for me in my illness as gently as a father does his little child. Is this Your will, O God?
When despair sets in, when life disappoints us, when our backs are up against the wall, questions gush out of our soul: Is this Your will, O God? Where are You? Do You care about me? Are You real? Can I trust You?
Is it permissible for us to question God or to voice our doubts?
Well, Abram, one of the first great heroes in the Bible expressed such doubts and raised such questions. After journeying to a land God had promised to give to him and waiting for many years for children to inherit the land, Abram’s frustration spurts out of his soul. In verse 2 he asks, “O Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” In verse 3 he adds to his complaint, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.” In verse 8 he does it again: “O Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”
How does God respond to Abram’s expression of doubt?
Notice first what God doesn’t do: God doesn’t strike Abram dead or injured for doubting; and God doesn’t throw Abram away; and God doesn’t even scold him. God always responds well to genuine prayers—even when those prayers are an expression of our doubt.
What God does may seem surprising to us. God tells Abram to bring some animals.
Abram understands the meaning of this. He knows that this has to do with cutting a covenant, wherein two parties walk through the blood of severed animals, proclaiming, “This covenant is now sealed with blood. May it be done to me, as it has been done to these creatures, if I should ever break the covenant we have established between us. And may it be done to you, as it has been done to these animals, if you should ever break the covenant we have established between us. If you or I should ever break this covenant, may the one who breaks the covenant pay for it with his life!”
As it turns out, though, only God walks through the blood. God takes the full weight of the demands of the covenant upon Himself.
What kind of God is this who walks through the blood of severed animals rather than demanding that of us? What kind of God is this who swears upon Himself the loss of His own life if the covenant should be broken?
This is the kind of God whom Abram can trust to keep His promise. This is the kind of God whom we can trust even in the darkest and most troublesome times of our lives. This is the kind of God who will stop at nothing in His commitment to us!
Something has gone wrong.
We, as human beings, were made from God’s love and we were made to live into God’s love. We were designed to find fulfillment and satisfaction in God’s love.
But love cannot be forced upon us. By the nature of love, love must be a choice. In his book A Grace Disguised, Jerry Sittser explains, “More than anything, God covets our love. But real love can never be forced. Freedom is what makes love possible in the first place. That is why God will never coerce us into a relationship. Faith allows us to chooses God in freedom.”
Sadly, Genesis 3 reveals what happens in us when we turn our backs on the love we were designed for, when we pursue satisfaction or fulfillment void of God.
Oswald Chambers remarks, “The root of all sin is the suspicion that God is not very good.” That’s what Eve and Adam struggled with in Genesis 3. Was God holding back from them the chance to have their eyes opened and to be like God? Larry Crabb puts it this way: “The serpent suggests that there is a goodness that God hasn’t made available to Eve. She reaches for that supposed goodness.”
Out of that suspicion that God was not entirely good to them, Eve and Adam chose the route of disobedience rather than obedience. They chose to pursue happiness apart from and away from God.
Did they end up with satisfaction and fulfillment?
No, they ended up falling into a cesspool of problems.
Suddenly shame became the driving force of their lives. Out of shame, they sewed fig leaves together to cover up their nakedness. Charles Darwin claims, “Shame is what distinguishes us most markedly from the animal world.” Kahlil Gibran states, “Should we all confess our sins to one another we would all laugh at one another for our lack of originality.” Gibran recognizes that all of us struggle with the same sins, but we don’t admit them to each other because we are all driven by shame.
And fear hijacked their hearts. Adam and Eve hid from God because they were afraid. Larry Crabb comments, “Fear is…the first and strongest emotion felt after Adam and Eve took it on themselves to arrange for their maximum enjoyment of life.” Ever since then all of us struggle with fear.
They fell short of the good God intended for them. Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend write, “In trying to become God, they became less of themselves.” In Romans 3:23, Paul summarizes, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
And they adopted habits of inadequate cover-ups (fig leaves are worthless as clothing, but that is what Adam and Eve use to try to cover up their shame, and we have been trying inadequate cover-ups ever since) and of blame (Adam is quick to blame Eve for giving him the fruit, and Eve is quick to blame the serpent, and we are quick to blame as well).
Yet the God who made Adam and Eve out of love and for love, still reached out to them out of love and for love. Despite their rebellion against God, and despite how desperately they try to hide from God, He still comes looking for them. Rather than walking away from them, God walks into the garden asking, “Where are you?”
No matter how much we rebel against God and try to hide from Him, God still pursues us because His love for us is permanent. In his journal, which turned into the book The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom, Henri Nouwen writes, “Your love, insofar as it is from God, is permanent. You can claim the permanence of your love as a gift from God. And you can give that permanent love to others.”
Something has gone wrong in us, but God’s love carries on!