Frustrated and angry, I began blaming God, “why must you leave me in this state? Why must I always feel like a second-class citizen? Will you make all of my fears come true? Why is it that everyone else’s desires are fulfilled the way they want them?”
And it dawned on me: What if God allows the very thing that I fear to become reality? What if God calls me to do harder things than I anticipated? What if… The questions continued. They seemed to be as numerous as the stars in the sky.
I began to wonder about Abram– standing and looking up at the sky– after God revealed himself in a vision, saying: “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be” (Gen 15:5). Even after God promised to fulfill the covenant (Gen 15:17–21), I wonder how often he thought “What if God does not come through?”
In his weakness he gave into Sarai’s fears and slept with Hagar. Abram took matters into his own hands. As time goes on, we see that God did not promise to bless Abram through his wife’s slave – but through Sarai (Gen. 17:1-21). Later, after being renamed and renewed, Abraham and Sarah’s life is one of continual anticipation and waiting. It is not until Abraham is one-hundred years old that God fulfills the promise he made to Abraham.
I picture Abraham – holding his son in his arms with joyful tears– thinking, “How long we have waited for you!” A few years later, God breaks into the narrative and asks something that tests their faith: “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (Gen. 22:2). We don’t hear a response from Abraham, but I wonder if he was reminded of the previous promise from God: “I will establish my covenant with [Isaac] as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him” (Gen 17:19). I wonder if Abraham thought, “Surely God will take care of Isaac, won’t he?”
Saddling up his donkey, Abraham, Isaac, and two of their young men walked to the mountain. After three days, Abraham saw the place from a distance. Looking at the young men, he says “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you” (Gen 22:5). Abraham and Isaac trek up the mountain – Isaac carrying the stack of wood on his back. Abraham with knife and fire. Being perceptive, Isaac looks around and asks his father, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering” (Gen 22:9)? I imagine Abraham stopping, looking at his son, getting down to his eye level with a calming smile, and his hand resting on Isaac’s head, responding,“God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (Gen 22:8). Abraham may have even continually reminded Isaac (and himself) of the ways that God showed himself as the provider and promise-keeper.
Getting closer, I wonder if Abraham may have looked around and thought, “I don’t see a lamb yet, but I do remember what God said. He kept his promises before and I trust he will do it again.” They make it to the top and he looks around. No lamb. Abraham turns around and takes the wood. He makes the altar, possibly moving just a little slower than he normally would.
Grabbing the rope, Abraham takes his son, binds him, and places him on the wood. Tears flowing and remembering God’s words – he begins to move the knife closer and closer. As he is about to kill his only son – God intervenes and says, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me. And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son” (Gen 22:12-13).
As I am reminded of how God always delivers on his promises that he has given us, I have to take a step back. What am I putting my hope in – is it the “what if God does/does not _______,” or is it “Even if God does/does not ________, he will uphold his promises.”
Facing the “what-ifs” in life is hard, especially for those of us who are frustrated with God’s providence in our lives. So how should we respond?
God only gives good things
Thomas Watson reminds us: “If it is good for us, we shall have it; if it is not good for us, then the withholding of it is good.” God’s giving and withholding is a positive action from God. God is not stingy or mean-spirited. Every one of God’s actions will always flow from a tender, gracious, and merciful love towards his Children. So make your requests known to God, knowing that God will only give good to his saints (Psa. 84:11).
It may sound weird, but I think Christians should dream about things. And I mean dream big. Now, there’s a difference between wanting things simply because we want it versus looking to honor God through it. Some people might dream to make a lot of money for the sake of sending many people to where the gospel is not preached. Some people might want to be married because the Bible says it is a glorious thing to be married. Some people might want to remain unmarried because the Bible says that it is advantageous for not having certain distractions while in ministry. Some might want open a business, or want to go overseas, or move into the inner-city for the sake of making Jesus known. Each of our dreams have dangers. Each of our dreams also be faith-filled hope and trust in God. Let us ask God to give us big, hopeful dreams. Instead of wondering “what if God doesn’t give us our dreams,” let us say: “even if God does not give us our dreams, He is still good.”
We trust that Jesus is worth it
Christians will not have perfect dreams because we live in a fallen world. Sin’s effect on us is drastic, but Christ’s victory is greater still. In our dreaming, we hold it up to God – who is our good Father– and say “what do you think? Can you help me glorify you in this?” It may be that God grants it or changes your vision of it. Either way – our hope is not in God giving us everything we ask. It is in God giving us everything we need in Jesus. We bank on Jesus because we can trust that there is one thing that will never be taken away: himself.
Let us no longer be “what if” people, but an “even if” people. A people who see that God does not withhold any good thing from those who walk with him.
[Photo Credit: Tom Hall]