The Readings for Thursday in the 12th Week Tempus Per Annum:
First, Abram didn’t quite follow God’s instructions to leave his family. He brought along his nephew, you know, just in case. Now Sarai notices that she hasn’t yet had a child so she gives Abram her slave. This foundation story in the Old Testament is filled with people making up for what they feel God is lacking. God has to pick up the pieces and fulfill his part of the Covenant even when his human friends decide they want to do it their own way.
This is the same thing that Adam and Eve did: instead of waiting for wisdom to grow in them and with them, they took it. Eating the fruit on our own terms is never the right answer – but we all do it. When Adam and Eve did it they got kicked out of the garden. But God was really desperate to get this Abram dude to father Israel and to bless the world. So every time Abram makes mistakes God – not very politely – steps in and slaps him on the wrist. Then God picks up the pieces. Some of the best stories in the Old Testament come from the shattered pieces that God has to pick up.
Today’s shattered pieces involve this Egyptian slave, Hagar, and her child. God has to pick them up. They are left alone in the desert. It’s one of the funniest things in this passage: Sarai first says, “Here take my slave.” And then like a housewife in a 1950 sitcom, she changes her mind and says, “You did this to me.” “Women!” Says Abram, looking at the camera. “Am I right?” Then he shrugs his shoulders and does what his wife wants. So God has to go into the desert and find this woman and her child and rescue them.
I bet you’re looking forward to next week when the shattered pieces will involve Lot, Mrs. Lot, Sodom, and Gomorrah. I know I am.
Anyway, the entire story of Abram seems to be about someone who should be trusting God and yet fails to do so at every turn. Everything God promises God does. But Abram, rather like Varuca Salt, wants it now, Daddy, NOW! And so Abram’s story is not just about God’s Divine Providence, it’s also about God’s Divine Providence responding to our continual f****** up, pardon my asterisks.
God’s Providence happens anyway. For we still continue on like Abram.
No matter what we do, no matter which choices we make, God’s Providence will always happen. We can imagine that we have a vocation to the ministry and find ourselves 55 years later blessed beyond compare even though we’re not ordained. We can imagine that we should be doing great things at every turn and failing and find ourselves blessed beyond compare, even so. Because even when we’re not faithful, God is always faithful.
This is the message of the entire Bible – which humanity has yet to learn. God is working his purposes out. We can help him or we can try to hinder him. We can do either of our most common tricks: “Yes I will help,” we say. But we do not. Or “No, I will not help” we say. But we try to anyway, under our own energy – instead of God’s. But even then God’s Divine Providence will bless us beyond compare.
Jesus says, “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.” Most of us, it must be said, will fail in either the listening to these words or in the doing of them. Still, God is faithful nonetheless. God is faithful to his word. He cannot not act on it because his speaking is his doing. God’s word, Jesus, is a doing. The word of God, Jesus, says “light” and light is. God’s word is action. God’s action is reality. When God speaks his faithfulness performs the speaking. Even when we are not faithful God is.
This is not the Prosperity Gospel.
God’s promises are hardly ever for mere material blessing. St Paul says God’s purpose is to will the reconciliation of everyone. And so everything must be seen as working towards that end. If that requires poverty or death, war, earthquakes, famine, whatever… they will come to be.
Our faithfulness requires that we trust God even then. As we will be blessed beyond compare.