Many years ago I had a friend who was diagnosed with cancer. We prayed and believed with all the faith that was within us that she would be healed, but she wasn’t–at least not the way we had hoped.
For several years after that, I struggled with doubt and confusion. If God tells us to believe, to trust, to walk by faith, why does life not always work out the way we believed?
Surviving Doubt and Confusion
One thing I love about the Word of God is that we find people there who struggled with the same issues we do. And they didn’t always handle them the right way, which is even more evidence to me that this Bible I’m holding is real.
If it were made up, someone should have gone to a little more trouble for everything to always be perfect and for the followers of God to always do the right thing, don’t you think?
But no, they are so very real, just like us.
When I look at the story of Sarah, I always tend to judge her too quickly, as if I would never make the same choices she did. But, umm, I do. A lot.
Leaving behind everything she knew and all the comforts of home, Sarah set out with Abraham to a place they had never been or seen before. She followed her man, even when it took her to unfamiliar territory.
But God met them right there and promised them a future.
“The LORD appeared to Abram and said, ‘To your offspring I will give this land.’ So he built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him.”Genesis 12:7, NIV84
Then, guess what? No food. Yep, they left everything behind at the ripe old ages of 75 for Abraham and 65 for Sarah (who were still called Abram and Sarai at that point), and ended up in a land of famine.
So, Abraham led his crew down to Egypt where the Nile kept things pretty fertile. Only, Sarah was rocking it at 65–so beautiful that Abraham told her to claim she was his sister so he wouldn’t be killed.
Pharaoh found out about her beauty and had her brought to join his harem. Because they thought Abraham was her brother, his life was spared.
But Sarah was trapped at the palace, about to become another concubine to the Egyptian king. Then God intervened.
“But the LORD inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai. So Pharaoh summoned Abram.
‘What have you done to me?’ he said. ‘Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife? Why did you say, “She is my sister,” so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!'”Genesis 12:17-19
I imagine spending some time in an Egyptian harem was a little shaky for Sarah, but God took care of her and protected her from Pharaoh’s advances.
Ten years later, Sarah was still waiting for that promise of God to be fulfilled. At seventy-five, she was still barren. That promise of offspring probably seemed like a distant dream.
Sarah began to believe that God wanted her to carry out the promise with her own plan.
“…so she said to Abram, ‘The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her.'”Genesis 16:2a
Well, I guess I can’t blame her. How many times have I “hunted down a Hagar” as my friend Michelle says? Often, when God doesn’t seem to be answering according to my plans and my timeline, I figure He needs me to intervene with a “better” plan.
It worked for Sarah–at least temporarily. Her maidservant Hagar did bear Abraham a son. But not only was he not the son of the promise, his conception only caused Sarah more trouble, as Hagar began to despise her.
Feeling unappreciated, she complained to Abraham, who told her to deal with her own mess (16:6). Sarah only made matters worse by mistreating her maidservant.
Sarah followed her husband in faith to an unfamiliar land, ended up in an unfair situation at the palace of Pharaoh, tried to fix an unfulfilled promise with her own plan, and was left unappreciated by her maidservant and her husband when her plan didn’t quite work out the way she thought.
I imagine she was wracked with doubt and confusion.
“Why God? Why would you lead us to a place where there was no food, send us to Egypt for me to be kidnapped, deliver me from Pharaoh but not deliver the promise, and let me mess it all up with my own plan?”
Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever tried to follow God, but the way He led seemed to be worse than where you were before? Have you ever felt you had a promise from God, but years later, you are still waiting?
Have you ever tried to take matters into your own hands to “help” God bring your promises to pass, only to make things much worse?
We all have been Sarah at some point and time. The beautiful thing about her story is that God never abandoned her, continued to work in every situation, and never failed to keep His promise.
“God also said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.'”Genesis 17:15-16
God is faithful.
He renewed his covenant with Abraham, this time including Sarah specifically in the promise. Fifteen more years had gone by, but God was faithful. He fulfilled His promise to Abraham and still used Sarah to do it.
God is gracious.
“Now the LORD was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him.”Genesis 21:1-2
We may not always understand God’s promise, His plan, or His timing, but we can be sure that He is faithful and He is gracious.
Every Word He has spoken will come to pass. His promises cannot be broken. It’s just who He is.
And when we fail to understand, He is gracious still.
I don’t know why my friend’s healing came in the form of eternity. I don’t always understand how faith works. But I do know that God is good and God is love.
Sarah may not have always believed perfectly, but God calls her faithful.
“By faith, Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.”Hebrews 11:11, ESV
Even when we struggle with doubt and confusion, God will be faithful to meet us right where we are with grace. And He will fulfill every promise in His Word. Our best. His way. Our good. His glory.