Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Sure and Certain Hope

She lay there gazing at the child in her arms. Isaac they had called him, meaning laughter, because she had laughed with incredulity at the impossible announcement that she would bear a child. But the doubts were over, and the miracle lay in her arms, and now she did not know whether she laughed or cried.

It had been a long journey, and the physical journey from Ur had been the smallest part of it. She remembered the night that Abram had first come to her and spoken of his encounter with God. It had been a frightening and wonderful adventure to leave behind the only world she had known: a world of comfort and opulence and familiarity; but also a world where she knew that she was scorned and belittled behind her back for being a childless, aging woman. These promises seemed like a dream, Abram’s dream (though Abram always preferred to call them God’s dream), and they would lie there at night and ponder their meaning: to become a nation, (how could one do that without a child?), to bear a great name (something men seemed to care so much for), to be under God’s direct protection (yes, every step of the way she had seen that) and, most intriguingly of all, to be a source of blessing to all the nations of the world.

And they had gone on; and on, and on and on, for twenty five years. And as time went on, the word of God to Abram became more explicit: the heir of these promises would be the child of his own body. The whole idea seemed crazy – who were they, barren all their lives, to suddenly produce a child in the weary dryness of old age? That was like expecting fruit on a dry branch ready for pruning. She had made a mistake then, assuming that from his body meant not from hers. And Ishmael was the price of her want of faith.

But then the promise had been reiterated, and Abram (now Abraham) had undergone circumcision. Again, it seemed preposterous at the time, though she had been awed by how willingly Abram had obeyed. Surely it was a kind of madness, this symbolic token which implied a giving up of human potency and strength as the very seal upon the promise that potency, strength and fruitfulness would be given to the flesh beyond the very boundaries of hope? There had been tears in her eyes for her husband that day.

Then, beyond hope, she found herself with child. At first it was too hard to believe, and she ascribed her symptoms to all kinds of diseases. But, when the child quickened there could no longer be any doubt, and she had stood at the door of the tent, gazing out upon the stars (those desert stars whose uncountable fiery numbers were supposed to symbolise the number of their descendants), until she could see them no longer because of the tears of wonder prickling from her eyes.

And now the child was born, healthy and strong, from her body too old and worn to have nourished such vigour as his, and she knew, flesh to flesh, the life-giving power of the promise of God. She had doubted for so long, not with active unbelief, but with a weariness that turned away from the effort of daring to hope one more time. And the child was given anyway – the mercy of God to a barren stock. She held him and she marvelled, for if this impossible promise came true, beyond the dark expiry point of all normal human hope, then why should she doubt any other part of God’s given word. And she thought of the promise of the Blesser of all nations, the Restorer, who would one day come from their descent and somehow bring the broken peoples of the earth to God again, and she knew that this was not a mad fantasy, but, beyond human understanding, a sure and certain hope.

No comments: