I never went to Elementary or Middle School. Instead, I attended a small, local private school which called Grades K-5 “Grammar School” and 6-8 “Logic School”. In addition to high expectations for behavior and dress, I was also rigorously challenged academically; it’s one of the biggest reasons I am such a philomath today. I never appreciated the things I was being taught, however. It would take me graduating from a public high school and rooming in college with someone who’d never experienced that kind of education to see just how well that school had equipped me with the tools necessary to excel, not just academically but spiritually, too.
This private school laid the foundations for a well-developed pool of knowledge concerning the Bible, the Church, the history of Israel, you name it. I can think back to reciting Deuteronomy 6 as a 7 year old, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength…” At some point it got lodged in my mind that the Kingdom of Israel divided after the reign of King Solomon between the North and the South, though not for long. In the 700’s BC, Assyria took the Northern Kingdom; the Southern Kingdom fell in the 500’s to Babylon. It was such a blessing (once I got past all the spiritual callous and intellectual pride that came with it). But in learning about God and the relationship He has had with His people all this time, one thing was never fully communicated to me.
God’s promises are nuts.
I mean, it’s one thing to talk about how in Genesis 6 Noah was instructed to build a freaking massive ship in the middle of the desert, having never seen rain before or likely even heard of it. That’s just how God worked back then. He told old people they’re going to have the baby that will begin the lineage chosen to bless the whole world, only to wait another 25 years before giving it to them. Then He instructed those same old people to sacrifice that child without any indication of intent to intervene (See the Story of Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac in Gen. 12 – 22). But to really try and convert that into a modern example doesn’t quite compute as well. God would never tell me to build an inter-dimensional space station to save us from the sentient vegetables that will destroy Earth and all its inhabitants. Right?
And what’s weirder is that these people go along with it. Noah built the Ark, despite it taking 100 years to make and destroying every shred of a reputation he had in his community; Abraham prepared Isaac to be sacrificed, knowing that the likelihood of him having another child was basically nonexistent; Moses confronted the Pharaoh of Egypt during the nation’s height of power, fully aware of every way the stunt could go wrong and get every slave in Egypt killed (Exodus 5 tells of the confrontation itself, but the story of Israel’s liberation ranges from Chapter 2 through Chapter 12); the list goes on and on. But that’s just how they lived back then. God let them in on his totally bonkers plans, and they went with it (albeit imperfectly on all counts, because, ya know..sin).
This isn’t how we live today.
I usually question if it was really God speaking when I feel him telling me to inconvenience myself in some minuscule way that may or may not involve some risk of fairly low levels of embarrassment or vulnerability. “What? Are you sure? I don’t think God would really ask me to do something like that. It’s so strange! People don’t act like that; Why would God ask me to be so different?”
But what kind of a People would the Church become if we did listen for God’s voice and trustingly stepped into His craziest promises? What kind of things would happen if it weren’t just something God and His people did back then? I think we’d all see that the God of Abraham and of Moses is a God that makes good on His promises. We’d all start to see the absolutely outrageous results to His laughably outrageous instructions (See Gen. 18).
And we’d all come to trust and praise and bring glory to His name more than ever before.
Right now I’m wrestling with a promise I felt him tell me a few years ago, a promise I distorted and then discounted and eventually forgot about until about a month ago. It’s not nearly as weird as some of the stuff of the Bible, but even so I find it completely reasonable to doubt it on a daily basis. I scrutinize every detail of the encounter, I prepare as many excuses for why it might not be what I thought it was, “just in case”, and I explain blow-for-blow (usually to God) why it makes no sense for it to be a promise from God–it’s abnormal, inconvenient, and requires so much more humility and forgiveness (and patience) than I honestly want to extend to the other person involved. Besides, the likelihood of such an event occurring is just too small. “God would never say something so improbable would happen!” I say to God, as I feel Him chuckle and roll his eyes at me.
Today I’m learning that while God’s promises are sometimes more bizarre than what we’re expecting, and almost always take more time than we thought we would ever be prepared to handle, they are undeniably worth listening for. Not only are they from a God who loves us and wants what’s best for us–a fact crazier than any other promise He’s made–but they are moments of God extending His hand out for us to grab onto, so that we, too, can take part in His plans to redeem this world and bring all the glory to Him.
That’s what the people of the Old Testament really lived for: not how nuts the promises were but how faithful God is. Today I’m content to wait on God’s promises, that they might bring me to such a place that only He can be given the glory and that He may prove in my life that He is faithful to His word and to His people.