Reflecting on Romans 8.28
Let me tell you a story lifted from the middle of the Abraham and Sarah narrative.
You may remember how the story started. It began with a move. God called the couple from the life they knew to a life ahead that they did not know. At the beginning, God made promises to the couple. One promise was that they would be blessed with many many, many children and grandchildren and great grandchildren.
It was quite a story, this story of Sarah and Abraham. After setting out on the journey, after months and years had passed–in the middle of their story–what was happening to Abraham and Sarah? What was happening with the promise of many children? Nothing. They remained childless.
In this middle of the story one of the truly odd stories in the Scripture emerges. Sarah decided it was time to ‘just do something about it’. Sarah told Abraham: “Take my maid Hagar and have a child with her.” It was an idea that was less shocking to Abraham than it would be in 21st century Canada. It was ‘done’. In that patriarchal world, the maid belonged to Sarah and Sarah belonged to Abraham. So it was ‘legal’. And then, in the unexpected ways of God, in spite of God’s longstanding promise to Sarah, it was Hagar who very soon was expecting a child.
Not long after that, Sarah and Hagar had a falling out. It seemed to Sarah that Hagar was “flaunting” her pregnancy in front of her. In turn, Sarah treated Hagar badly. Abraham, for his part, had no idea what to do about the whole tangled situation.
In this middle of the story the narrator in Genesis quite strikingly does not step up and simplify anything by stating who was right, who was wrong, or ‘how they could have avoided the mess’. The narrator seems content to simply tell the story of being human. Human beings, as Genesis describes, are, after all, made of dirt, adam from adamah, human from humus. For Sarah and Abraham, for human beings, it would often not be quite clear how to ‘get it right’.
Of course, there would be more to the story. Much later, well beyond any sensible expectation of the promise coming about, Sarah and Abraham would have a child. Much much later, the winding story of Sarah and Abraham would include more unexpected blessings, and more heartbreaking struggles. But for a moment I would invite us to pause in the middle of the story, with Sarah, Abraham and Hagar wondering what in heaven’s name is happening.
For these times, for the middle of the story, Romans 8.28 comes to my mind. My father was so fond of repeating this verse, particularly when things were not working out quite as planned. It was a verse that was brought forward to remind us that God was always at work for good in middle of the story even when where it was all going was far from clear. The ‘good’ might take time, true enough. It might take years–sometimes it might not happen until the time of generations yet unborn. But the promise does not fail.
I leave us with this word from Romans 8 as we live in the middle of our stories today:
All things work together for good for those who love God.
Reflecting on Romans 8.28