Some of the threads in the tapestry of our redemptive history from Genesis to Revelation are bright and clear. Others are subtle, weaving in and out, seeming to disappear and then reappear. All of them inspire awe in us when we see them. They give us deep reassurance that God is directing the drama, including the parts each of us play in his grand design.
Yet there is perhaps nothing that shakes our confidence in God’s orchestration more than when our lives are painful and messy and our story seems neglected, abandoned, unfinished.
I’m intrigued by the saints in the scriptures whose stories seemed unfinished in their lifetimes, people who must have been challenged to trust that God was really a loving author and that his control of the narrative was sure. The Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, may be my favorites (Exodus 1). God’s people are slaves in Egypt, but they’re getting too numerous for Pharoah to handle, so he orders the Hebrew midwives to kill all the baby boys. We are told that Shiphrah and Puah obey God instead of Pharoah and let the boys live. The narrative immediately moves to the story of the birth of Moses, and it’s safe to assume that Shiphrah or Puah delivered him and let him live.
Doing the math, I figure that if Moses was eighty when he encountered the burning bush, and even older when he led the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, Shiphrah and Puah were long gone. But think of their part in the story...the importance of their obedience. Who was the real deliverer of Israel? They delivered the deliverer! We’re told that God rewarded them with families of their own, but they died still slaves in Egypt, their stories still seeming tragic. They didn’t know. They do now. Still, in the middle there’s anguish.
Moses’ story is hugely unfinished. He dies without ever stepping into the land to which he has given his heart and soul to take God’s people. I love that he gets in after all...on the mount of transfiguration with Elijah and Jesus. Still, in the middle there’s anguish.
It helps us in the midst of our own sorrows or unfinished stories to remember these things. Can anyone really understand the importance of their own obedience or faithfulness to God? What could Paul have thought he accomplished in his life as an apostle? He started a few small churches and wrote some letters.
Paul himself uses the word anguish in Romans 9 when he considers the unfinished story of God’s chosen people Israel. I want to end here, urging you to hear the sermon linked below. It was preached by our son Peter, who was the five-year-old in the story that introduced this series...the five-year-old who first got the big story of the scriptures in one five-minute telling years ago. Parishioners who were present for this preaching, sent it, telling us, “This is going to wreck you!” It did, but in a good way. He ends with a family story that is also a family story for the church where it was preached, and in a way, it’s a family story for our diocese. Calling to mind God’s sovereign hand in biblical history, as well as in the places in our own stories where it can be seen, fortifies us for the present moment. Peter ends with these good questions for us to ponder:
Who or what, in your life, is tempting you to doubt God’s redemptive orchestration?
Can we fight for our heart’s posture, one that believes God is not asleep… one that believes that God is weaving our personal story and our family story into a larger redemptive narrative for his glory?