Absence and Presence
They were like Noah in righteousness but like Abraham and Sarah in childlessness.
Just as God was about to do something new when he called Noah ‘righteous and blameless’ (Genesis 6:9) and just as God was about to do something new when He promised Abraham and Sarah a family, God is about to do something new. Watch this space. This apparently empty space. This space which looks like an absence, a lack, a scarcity, this barrenness is about to become brimming with streams-in-the-desert life.
This is how God works. This is the story of scripture all along.
The story that would change every thing for the human race if we just knew how to live it.
Our achingly anxious world spins a story of scarcity, rotating around an axis of emptiness and fear, haunted by the lie that there’s not enough. Underneath so much of humankind’s grasping and greed is a deep insecurity, a fear that unless we grasp more more more our hands will be empty, our lives empty.
But Scripture tells another story.
‘Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.’
It’s not more work or more money that fills the void and provides abundance, but the active presence of God. The story of scripture is the story of God bringing life into emptiness, abundance into voids and hope into despair. Because in the story of Scripture, absence is not the same as lack. Absence is a space for God’s presence to be revealed, for miracles to grow, cell by cell, sinew by sinew, silently within.
If it had all been easy all along, if it had been normal and possible, if Elizabeth and Zechariah had had children in their youth, how would they (and their community) have seen that the hand of God was with them? How would it have been a miracle worth recording for all time? The miracle of the beginning of something new. Something remarkable. Something marked by the presence of God.
Miracle births after years of waiting and wanting are plentiful in scripture and always a sign that God is moving. Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel and Hannah and Elkanah.
But waiting on a miracle, requiring a miracle, is not an easy road to walk. Abraham and Sarah remained childless for 25 long turns around the sun after God first promised to bless them with a son. In their despair Abraham and Sarah took things into their own hands and reached for the right thing in the wrong way, the impatient way. The breaking way. They made the mistake of thinking that if there was lack they had to work hard to fill it.
And we do it don’t we. We get on our anxious treadmills and work work work to make ends meet, to keep the scarcity from our doors, to fix our problems in our own strength. We feel the lack and it drives us. We don’t invite God into our need because we don’t really expect Him to show up. We believe the lie that lack spins, and spin on this earth as though there is no God. We live the lie that we are alone in the world. That we don’t have a Heavenly Father whose name is Yahweh-Jireh “The Lord Will Provide”.
Elizabeth and Zechariah, in their old age, had probably almost given up hope altogether. But they hadn’t given up inviting God into their lack. They, even after all their waiting years, hadn’t stopped praying. They didn’t take things into their own hands as Abraham and Sarah had done. Zechariah didn’t divorce his wife in order to try all over again with a younger woman (as some did in his day). He remained faithful to Elizabeth and together they remained faithful to God in hopeful prayer. And God was listening. And would very soon act…
‘But the angel said to him: ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.’
Luke 1:13 (emphasise added)
Imagine being commended on your prayer life by an angel!
Silence can feel like an absence of God. But the truth is God is always present and wants us to see clearly that it is not circumstance or our own striving that gives us good gifts, but His hand alone. And His gifts are often seen most clearly after an absence, like a light lit on a dark night, like a long cool drink after a dehydrating wait, like a child finally born from an ageing barren womb.
Any fit young person can have a baby… but a baby born to remarkably ageing parents? That alone is a gift from God. Remarkable. Marked by a miracle. A clear statement that God is up to something.
God can’t fit in to our worlds already full. If we don’t need Him, we won’t reach for Him, or even notice when He shows up. There is no space for the life God brings in a life already full of itself. If there is no absence there is no space for God to reveal His presence. Into all our empty anxious spaces God wants to be invited in. In prayer. In patience. In hopeful expectation.
This God is a God who shows up. Invite Him in. Wait for Him.
He’s on His way.