Men, this Fathers’ Day I want to give you permission to be helpless. I know you’re quite practiced in supporting your wife through the trauma of Mother’s Day, but you likely gloss over or avoid your own unmet longings on Father’s Day. Like me, you may not even feel much of that longing until you’ve exhausted every possible option (and there are many) to “fix the problem” of childlessness through solutions natural, medical and voodoo. Even so, my hunch is that we men all have at least one experience in common: helplessness.
READ: Genesis 22:1-19
Abraham is me… Abraham and Sarah were infertile and old when God first told them that they would have a son. And by “old” I don’t mean “in their mid-to-late thirties.” Abraham was pushing 100 and Sarah was 90 years old at the time (Gen 17:16-17). They had exhausted every option, including Sarah forcing her husband to sleep with the maid to conceive at least one heir for their family (Ishmael), so when God told them they would have children at that age, they laughed in His face. That’s right, Abraham was the first person in recorded history to “ROFL.” Isaac (whose name appropriately means “he laughs”) was Abraham and Sarah’s heir, the fulfillment of their deepest longings, their only beloved son and the living embodiment of God’s promise to bless them so abundantly that it would culminate with a nation’s-worth of descendants (Gen 12:1-3).
The only thing that could surpass their love for the God who gave them this incredible gift was the gift itself: Isaac. God’s command to sacrifice their son was a test of Abraham’s love for Him (v1). Do you love Me more than your son whom I gave you? Or do you love the Gift more than the Giver?
Can you imagine Abraham’s utter helplessness? God follows through in His promise to satisfy Abraham’s deepest longing, and then wants to take it away!
If I hesitate to pray for children (and I often do), it is because I fear exactly this. I doubt not that God is able, but that He is willing to give us so great a gift. I fear that God is withholding children from us to test our love… and that we’re failing that test.
Abraham is NOT me… Subtle clues in Genesis 22 show that Abraham didn’t share this fear. He told his servants that they would both return (v5). He told Isaac, who was perplexed by the startling lack of a sacrificial lamb, “God will provide for himself the lamb” (v8). Abraham was both trusting that God would be faithful to His fulfilled promise in Isaac, and obedient in following God’s command to sacrifice him. He knew that God would not – could not – contradict His promises, and even tied his son to the woodpile and sharpened his knife in preparation (vv9-11), all while fully expecting God to intervene on his behalf.
God, help me! I don’t understand… What are you doing? How do I reconcile your promise with my reality? Having faith does not preclude feeling helpless. ‘What the hell is going on?’ is quite different from ‘God, what are you doing?’ Both wrestle with feeling helpless, but the latter also expresses faith that God is able and willing to be with us in the midst of it.
Whereas before Abraham laughed in the face of God’s promise to provide, now he says “Here I am” knowing God has already and will continue to provide. Jesus is (the true and better) Isaac… If the greatest possible expression of Abraham’s love for God was in not withholding his only beloved son (Isaac), the greatest possible expression of God’s love for us is in not withholding His only beloved Son (Jesus).
God the Father, who enjoyed infinitely-close relationship with His Son from eternity past, experienced our same loss and unmet longing of childlessness (on an infinitely greater scale) while Jesus hung from the cross. Rather than test our love for Him, He gave us His Son as a test of His love for us.
More than anything else I have created in this universe, you are most important to me. You are the greatest gift I could give myself. The only way I can express how especially fond I am of you is to sacrifice my own Son on your behalf. I became Sonless so that you would become my son.
Jesus is with me… This does not mean that God will give us children if we “let go and let God” or “just have enough faith” (feel free to punch anyone who tells you that). While I don’t know if I will ever be a father, I do have a Father who knows what that’s like. While, in the midst of my helplessness – to give my wife what she longs for and have a son or daughter of my own – I can’t fathom why God hasn’t answered my prayers, I can rule out why not: It cannot possibly be because He doesn’t love me, nor that He doesn’t hurt with me. His Son on a cross rules that out completely.
I still feel helpless. I still don’t know if God will give us children. But I do know that I can face unmet longings with well-founded hope that it’s possible, and trust that He is with me through it all. ____________________________________________________________________________
Brad and Hannah live in Boulder, CO where Brad is a Resident Church Planter at The Well. They have a cat and a dog with very hipster names (Brooklyn and Scout, respectively) and their 2nd favorite religion is Cardinals Baseball. If you or anyone you know live in the area, they’d love to meet up over a delicious Colorado craft beer – for the excuse if nothing else.