Promises God does not keep
That’s a piecrust promise. Easily made, easily broken. — Mary Poppins
I did not truly understand the magnitude of making a promise until I had children. Multiple times a day they look deeply into my eyes and say, “You promise?”
Often these conversations are about trivial things like the possibility of dessert later or a trip to the pool.
I’ve learned to avoid making those promises, much to my children’s frustration. (“We’ll see” being an accepted form of torture.)
They also want more weighty assurances: that I won’t die, that they won’t die, that a tornado will not hit our house, that they will have a fun time at camp. They so desperately need to hear that they are safe and protected.
Adults are no different. We constantly turn to our heavenly parent for confirmation that we are going to be OK.
Of course, our Father is infinitely able to make and keep any promise imaginable.
Also, we don’t have to ask. We “claim the promises” God has already made in the Bible.
How wonderful to be told, “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” How sustaining to believe “because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail; they are new every morning.”
But what about the promises God so obviously does not keep?
How many times have I been reassured as a Christian parent that if I get my children onto the right path they will never stray (Prov. 22:6)? This is simply untrue.
Psalm 91 claims that those who love the Lord will be satisfied with physical safety and long life. Yikes. Tell that to persecuted and martyred Christians around the globe.
Even a perennial favorite, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” sounds hollow when misapplied.
Believing that God is both able and willing, I have to assume that humans are the ones messing up. We must be using and understanding God’s promises incorrectly.
I think the missing element is Jesus, God’s ultimate act of faithfulness.
God promised a Messiah, and he delivered, albeit in a guise no one expected. From his bizarre birth to his humiliating death, Jesus’ life and teachings model that God’s promises are not defined by the world.
When we quote Jer. 29:11 to high school graduates, invoking God’s promise of a bright future, we may want to preface it with Jesus’ words, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
When we remind a desperate friend that God will “never leave you or forsake you,” we may also remember Jesus on the cross crying, “My God, why have you forsaken me?”
When we console ourselves that “my God will meet all your needs” we should recall that Jesus sent his disciples out without money or extra clothes. “Needs” are relative.
As Christians it is tempting to select and apply biblical promises as they suit us. We get so comfortable “claiming” promises that we forget where they come from: God.
It is not until one of God’s promises “fail” that we realize we were standing on a promise we made to ourselves, cloaked in biblical language.
Like Wile E. Coyote, we suddenly look down and see nothing but freefall and hard ground below.
In those moments, as gravity starts its pull, we can perhaps understand that in God’s kingdom down is up, death is life, and when we hit bottom it will be on the safest, most faithful and firm Cornerstone there is.
Sarah Kehrberg lives in Swannanoa, N.C., and attends Asheville Mennonite Church.
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