My father has been gone for many years, but I was having a conversation with him and my son when the alarm went off this morning. We were discussing how it feels when your child doesn’t trust you. The example we raised was how God might have felt when Abraham and Sarah decided to use a surrogate because God had not delivered their inheritance.
Family relationships hold a great deal of hurt. I wonder if Sarah’s parents felt rejected when she set off to start a new life and never come back. I wonder what mistrust Sarah felt for a husband who would trade her to someone else to save himself. How betrayed did Hagar feel when Abraham dumped her and their son in the desert to die? And what about Ishmael, a child who could not know what “mistrust” meant since he’d never known trust. What’s it like to grow up without trust, without love, without hope, shaped by an undefined anger at an absent father who left you to survive by shooting? (Genesis 21:20)
What’s your story? In the semi-final of The Voice 2020, one of the contestants was given a pen and asked to describe how she felt about herself coming into the competition. The words she chose were telling: “unworthy, broken, unlovable, lost.” What made a difference was that somebody cared. Someone asked. And listened. You’re no longer unworthy, broken, unlovable, lost when somebody sees you.
So how does our Heavenly Father see us? Why doesn’t he prevent our pain? Why does he allow us to be mistreated?
Every parent knows the challenge of deciding whether to assert your will and force a child to obey for their own good, or to let them learn for themselves what’s good. There’s no clear boundary here, and it changes as the child grows.
Many of us have unrealistic expectations of the Heavenly Father to protect us. Like the father of the prodigal, our Heavenly Father doesn’t block us from going our own way. Rather than override us, he chooses the pain of separation, the yearning for reunion.
The Father established his family through Abraham, and he’s always related to us like this:
- God did not prevent Abraham from passing Sarah off as his sister. God showed up in the mess to care for Sarah (Genesis 12:17).
- God did not prevent Sarah from mistreating Hagar (Genesis 16:6; 21:10). God showed up in the desert with Hagar, and it meant so much that God had seen her (16:13).
- God did not prevent Abraham and Sarah discarding Ishmael. God showed up and gave Ishmael a future (16:10-12; 21:17-18).
These early chapters of Genesis set the stage for how God relates to humanity. Israel was his chosen family, but he remained the Father of all people. For Israel, God was “your Father, your Creator, who made you and formed you,” and he also “gave the nations their inheritance” (Deuteronomy 32:6, 8).
The Father did not prevent Israel from transgressing the boundaries he set for them when he gave them his Law. Neither did he prevent the nations from transgressing the boundaries he set for them when they took Israel’s land. What he did was to join his people as they suffered in disobedience and disinheritance.
If you expect God to prevent bad things happening to you, let this sink in: the Father did not prevent the death of his Son. The Son joined us in our suffering, trusting the Father even as he died (Luke 23:46). God showed up, and, in raising his Son, the Father raised up in him the people whose death he shared (Ephesians 2:6).
Don’t expect God to block your pain. The Father steps into his children’s pain, to restore his family. We live both truths: the intensity of the pain, and the depth of Father’s love.
Trust the Father. Take a knee:
Ephesians 3:14–19 (NIV)
14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.