Sarah: A picture of grace

In slowly reading through the Bible again, I’ve come across the story of Abraham and Sarah (or Abram and Sarai, as they started).  I’ve always pictured Sarah as a graceful figure, since she’s both the wife of the great Abraham and the mother of a nation.  But a different picture of her has emerged as I’ve been reading.

Almost every mention of Sarah’s name is coupled with an example of bad judgement.  First, there’s the Egyptian deception in Genesis 12 (admittedly not her idea, but she was definitely involved).  Next, in Genesis 16, she brings her servant, Hagar, to Abraham for use as a sex-slave.  Hagar’s desires are never mentioned or considered.  Then, when her plan works and Hagar’s expecting a baby, Sarah’s jealousy drives her to cruelty.  This cruelty is so extreme that pregnant Hagar leaves the community and flees into the desert in an act of near-suicide.

Yet in Genesis 17:15-16, God give Abraham great promises for Sarah.  He changes her name from Sarai, which means something like ‘my princess’ or possibly ‘quarrelsome’, to Sarah, which means ‘princess’.  God promises to bless her and give her a son. She also receives the female version of Abraham’s blessing: that she’ll be the mother of many nations.  God goes even further than he had with Abraham, and promises that kings will descend from her line.  Noticeably absent from the text is the reason God is blessing her.  In Abraham’s case, his faith has already been credited to him as righteousness.  In Sarah’s case, her account was surely overdrawn.  God is clearly not blessing her because she’s great, but because God is great.  He’s showing her unmerited favor, blessings she clearly doesn’t deserve.

So Sarah emerges for me not as an illustration of gracefulness, but as an illustration of grace.  If God looks at people like Sarah and decides to bless them, how can I not wish blessings for the undeserving?  Am I to place myself above God and wish ill of anyone? In the end, God’s blessings, when they’re seen in the light of their undeserved-ness, serve to glorify Him, not Sarah.  The blessings may have been for her, but they’re still God’s blessings.

Amazing Grace

Ed. note: Written by hand January 30, 2008 at the pediatrician’s office and posted later. Liam had pneumonia.

Dean Parento is in the hospital. This morning we prayed for his salvation. My thoughts pursuant to that prayer are wretched; a self-indictment. They wandered along a path peopled by three figures: Dean, John Newton and me. These thoughts are set to a soundtrack: Chris Tomlin’s rendition of Amazing Grace. I know I’ve written unfavorably about this song in the past. Witness me now despising my own hubris.

Tomlin’s version, coincidentally, is also the soundtrack to the recent movie of the same name. The movie portrays John Newton, the author of Amazing Grace, as an old man haunted bu the ghosts of 20,000 slaves who died in his charge while he was captain of a slave-trading ship. The committer of terrible offenses against God and man, he felt the weight of God’s forgiveness palpably. Truly amazing is the grace that would forgive such sins. This forgiveness breathes as if it was the voice of the wind. It tells me of its own miraculousness. And I know that forgiveness is always a miracle, whether applied to Dean, John Newton, or me.

Too often I see myself only in peripheral vision and assume that I’m wearing armor, that I somehow wear a clean character. When I stop and look down, though, that armor turns to filthy rags. I realize again that I’m no more worthy of forgiveness than John Newton. And that gives me tremendous hope for Dean. The fact that I’m not beyond Christ’s grasp means that Dean isn’t, either. When I pray for Dean’s salvation, I know that I’m reaching beyond possibility to the realm of miracles.

But that’s where forgiveness lives, and from thence has Christ rendered my own salvation. “And like a flood, his mercy rains (reigns). Unending love, amazing grace.”

Amazing Grace, indeed.