God Can Handle Our Questions
Updated: Mar 15, 2022
The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
Scripture: Genesis 15:1-12,17-18
The passage we heard today from Genesis reminds me of a Tori Amos song I’ve loved for a long time. It’s a little chaotic, a little petulant, and a little, well, sacrilegious. She says, “God, sometimes you just don’t come through.” Then, just to punctuate it, she adds, “Do you need a woman to look after you?”
I’d listen to it as an act of rebellion when I was a teenager forced to go to church three times a week where I was learning that secular music was from the devil, fantasy books were from the devil, horror movies were from the devil.
And here was this musician I loved who was openly, blatantly questioning God.
But the thing is, it’s not that rebellious. It’s not that subversive. In fact, it happens in the Bible all the time.
In Psalm 22, we hear:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.
The prophet Habakkuk says:
O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not listen?
Or cry to you ‘Violence!’
and you will not save?
And then today in Genesis, we hear Abram, who is not yet Abraham, question God multiple times: “You have given me no offspring even though you promised you would make a great nation out of me. You say you’ll give me land, but how am I to know that I shall possess it?”
Abram is tired. He and Sarai, who will become Sarah, leave their homeland and their families to go…someplace yet to be determined because God told them to. They end up in Egypt where they get pretty rich but also have some trouble with the pharaoh and are forced out.
Then Abram ends up caught up in a war that pits one group of powerful kings against another group of powerful kings. Abram’s help turns out to be decisive. One of the kings offers him a huge portion of the spoils, but Abram says, “Nope, God has other plans for me.”
At every step of the way, God is there saying, “Don’t worry, I’ve got good things planned.” Three times before the passage we heard today, God has promised Abram the land, the great nation, the enormous blessings.” But Abram’s still waiting. And he’s starting to wonder. So he starts questioning God.
This is such a wilderness story. While Abram has had success in some material ways, the things that he has sacrificed for, that he has most hoped for, that God has promised him, have still not come to pass. And it’s looking less and less likely. Abram and Sarai still haven’t had children and they’re now long past child-bearing years.
It makes me think about this whole pandemic—which actually officially shut down the country exactly two years ago this week. When it first started, it was scary, but we were up to the task. Almost energized. Washing our groceries. Planning weekly dates with friends on Zoom. Starting new workouts. Taking regular walks. We were going to make the best of this pandemic.
But then it wore on. For much longer than any of us thought. We discovered that washing our groceries was never really necessary to begin with. Our Zoom dates slowly fell away. The walks stopped. We got tired of wearing masks, of being vigilant. And When the vaccines came, there was so much controversy. Then we finally took our masks off because we thought it was done. Then came the Delta variant. Then Omicron. Now we’re once again together, masks optional, but…for how long?
On top of all that, our country has been torn apart by white supremacy, by huge income inequality, and by threats to our democracy.
On top of all that, war in Ukraine has made us fearful about how far the conflict might spread.
We are exhausted. Diminished. Uncertain.
And just like Abram, we’re filled with questions. “When will it be okay?” “How will we know we’re safe?”
And what God proves to Abram and to us is: God can handle our questions. Twice Abram questions God. And God doesn’t get mad at him for lacking trust. God doesn’t accuse him of being unfaithful because he’s uncertain. No, the first time Abram questions God, God takes Abram out and shows him the night sky, telling him that God will honor God’s promises. God reassures him.
The second time, God goes even further. And this is going to sound a little weird and gross to our modern ears, but God asks Abram to bring an assortment of animals which are cut in half. I know—gross. But in that context, it’s actually quite a profound act. That cutting represents a covenant God is making directly with Abram. This ritual is a practice in which the people who passed between those cut pieces are promising that they would suffer the same fate as these animals if they broke the terms of the agreement.
The scripture says, “When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces.” We know that the presence of God is almost always represented by fire in the Hebrew Bible. This means that God passed between the pieces, not Abram. Only God is held accountable to this covenant.
Abram isn’t punished for challenging God. He’s not punished for questioning God. No, God reassures him. God doubles down and enters into a solemn covenant with him in which God takes on all the responsibility.
As we know, God eventually enters into even deeper relationship with Abram and Sarai, whose names God changes to Abraham and Sarah. Sarah gives birth to Isaac at an impossibly old age. From Isaac comes Jacob whose sons become the 12 tribes of Israel who go on to establish the kingdoms of Judah and Israel. Where kings like Daven and Solomon rule over a great nation.
God keeps God’s promises.
So this Lent, as you wander your wilderness, I invite you to question God, to challenge God. God can handle it. In fact, God will hold you through it, reassure you. And God will take on the burden of answering. It may not be the answer you expect or even want. It may not be on your timeline. It certainly wasn’t on Abram’s timeline. You may not even recognize it as the answer until much later. But God will reassure you, and God will answer.