I was reading today about Jacob taking his family to Egypt in order to avoid starvation. God had providentially placed Joseph in a position of power in Egypt so that he could provide for his family during a time of severe drought and famine in the land of Canaan. Jacob must have wondered why God was now leading them AWAY from the Promised Land into Egypt. What struck me was this: God reassures Jacob that it’s the right move and that He will bring Jacob out of Egypt, but that he will die there.
“Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make your family into a great nation. I will go with you down to Egypt, and I will bring you back again. But you will die in Egypt with Joseph attending to you.” Genesis 46:3b-4
Doesn’t that seem paradoxical? How could God deliver Jacob out of Egypt if he’s going to die there?
I suppose it’s not that different from Abraham believing God’s promises about giving him innumerable descendants and giving him the land of Canaan as his possession. Abraham did not live to see Joshua lead the Israelites into Canaan, yet God had told him He was going to give him this land as his possession. (Genesis 15:7, emphasis mine.)
Hebrews helps to decode the apparent paradox.
“All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.” Hebrews 11:13-16
So God is faithful to keep His promises, but it may not be in our lifetime, at least not during our time on earth. Why do so many Christians miss this important point? This is NOT our home. We’re just passing through on our way to the new heavens and new earth where we will live forever with Christ. Our time on earth is like the 2 hour layover you spend in a crowded, noisy airport on your way home for Thanksgiving. Nobody in his right mind would look around for all the comforts of home in a lousy airport. I mean, you can’t even get a decent meal in an airport. So why do we keep trying to make the airport layover our home? Why do we expect God to meet all our physical, spiritual, and emotional needs now? Why don’t we ever stop to think that all the disciples but one were martyred? Why don’t pastors preach about this? Are they afraid of emptying out the pews? Have they missed it too? I’ve seen bumper stickers that read, “Smile, Jesus loves you.” I haven’t seen any that say, “Buck up, I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.” (John 15:19) or “I told you not to think it strange when fiery trials befall you.” (1 Peter 4:12) I’ve seen gospel tracts that read, “God loves you and has a wonderful purpose for your life.” And He does, but I’ve never seen one that continues, “and it may include being shunned by your family and co-workers or even burned at the stake.” I’ve never seen a gospel tract that is upfront and honest about suffering. The reason we don’t see these bumper stickers and gospel tracts or even hear these sermons is because the evangelical church today has by and large missed this all-important point. We will not see all of God’s promises fulfilled, global, corporate, or individual, in this life. He promises if we ask Him for bread that He will not give us a stone (Mathew 7:9). You can count on getting that bread, even though you may have a mouth full of rocks right now. That doesn’t make God a liar. He is faithful to keep His promises, all of them. But we cannot presume our timetable upon the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-holy God of the Universe.
Where does this leave us? I think it leaves us with the meaning of life. Everyone’s searching for the meaning of life. Here it is: prepare for the next life. How’s that for an answer? Spend this life preparing for the next one. That’s it. It’s that simple. Get to know God. Find out what pleases Him and start doing it. With the knowledge of God and obedience to Him come meaning and fulfillment and joy. Not the kind of laugh out loud, hysterical joy, or the kind of joy that comes with health, wealth, and prosperity, but the joy that comes from being in fellowship with the Almighty God of the Universe and the joy of being able to praise God even in the midst of difficult circumstances. This is what my husband calls easy preaching, hard living. But it’s the truth and the sooner we apprehend it, the sooner we will begin to see our life on earth as a layover to our eternal home. Then we will be able to see our current suffering, not as an anomaly that defies reason, but as an opportunity to throw ourselves at the feet of our Lord and say with confidence that His grace is sufficient for us. We will truly be able to say to God, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” when we connect the dots between this life and the next. His will now leads to His will then. The suffering now is part of the glory then. The world hating us now is part of our reward then. The promise now may be fulfilled now, but it will certainly be fulfilled then. The prayer now may be granted now, but will assuredly be answered then.
“Now we see things imperfectly as in a clouded mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God knows me completely.” 1 Corinthians 13:12
Jacob didn’t understand completely why God was moving his family OUT of the land promised to his father and grandfather as an inheritance, but he knew God’s will was perfect and he believed that God would still honor His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and himself. Jacob couldn’t have understood how God would bring him out of Egypt, but that he would die there any more than a believer can understand his current sufferings in light of God promising him bread and not a stone.
The risen Christ said to Thomas after letting him feel His wounds, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.” (John 20:29)
That’s us. We’re the ones that haven’t seen the glorified Christ with our eyes. We’re the ones that see dimly. Yet we believe. And it was Jacob, too. And Abraham. And all the faith hall-of-famers of Hebrews 11. Some of them “by faith overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them” (Hebrews 11:33) while “others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheeps and goats, destitute, oppressed, and mistreated. They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground. All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.” (Hebrews 11:35b-40)
None of them received all that God had promised. And we won’t either. Not in this life, anyway. It was their forward-looking faith that enabled them to live for God in their present, whether they were overthrowing kingdoms or being martyred. We, too, must have a forward-looking faith. A forward-looking faith is not shaken by cancer, the death of a loved one, or a seemingly unanswered prayer. A forward-looking faith sees this life in light of eternity. A forward-looking faith does not demand that God make good on His promises according to our timetable, but rests in His sovereign plan. A forward-looking faith does not see Our Best Life Now, but then, with the now merely preparing us for then. The aforementioned paradox is understood only in light of eternity. God is faithful to keep His promises… but it may not be in this life.
- I'm an on-the-run mom to 6 kids who studied and taught exercise science in a previous life. I love all things running, nutrition, and health-related. I usually run at zero dark thirty in the morning and am often quite hungry before, during, and after my run, but I live a rich, full, blessed life with my children, family, and friends. My faith in God is my anchor, and looking to Him and His promises allows me to live fully even when life circumstances are difficult. While running gives me an appetite, my desire is to hunger and thirst for righteousness more than for physical food.