I’ve been reading through the book of Genesis with my oldest child (I want you to take the idealized picture of this in your mind and dial it waaay back). We’re coming to the end of the story of Jacob, the last of the patriarchs, and have seen God renew his covenant with each them again and again while they bumble along, often away from his directions. They each take matters into their own hands, letting pride, fear, and anger mislead them and often harming others along the way.
I’m quite certain that as a child I read these as 100% hero stories about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob with flannel-graph pictures and easy morals to the story. But my son’s reaction is quite different. He is often shocked and angered that God continues to to work with people who are so indifferent to him. They seem no better than the Egyptians or the Philistines! I love his sense of youthful righteous indignation but as an adult who is much more experienced in going astray, I find comfort in God’s refusal to cancel Abraham, give up on Isaac, and revoke his covenant with Jacob.
On my own, I found myself reading through the book of Job recently. I couldn’t help trying to imagine Job’s cadre of “friends” and advisors trying to rationalize why God has blessed the scheming, cowardly, and lying Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob while Job, who truly seems blameless, suffers greatly. I would like to be able to explain the mechanics of the universe in a way that we could all use to optimize our lives for best outcomes. But there are no constants in any of these stories except for God. And he is never within our control.
God causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45). He isn’t capricious or spiteful — he is always good. If he kept a record of our sins, who could stand? (Psalm 130:3). He does not withdraw his covenant based on our unfaithfulness but extends it again and again because of his faithfulness.
And he looks at Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, deeply flawed as they are, and sees faith. I am always a bit shaken by the small summary of the lives of these men in what is sometimes called the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11:
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. (Hebrews 11:8-9).
It was so much messier than that! It seemed like the entire covenantal mission of God to bless Abraham and his descendants and subsequently the whole earth would fail multiple times. But God understands our weaknesses and yet he still chooses to partner with people in his mission to bless and redeem all of creation. Remember this and do not let the shame of your failures or the times you have rejected God’s direction and gone your own way keep you from the call to turn back to God. He is more kind and just and faithful than you could ever hope.