Trusting God's Promises
by Father Chris Goodwin
When Isaac asks his son how he has returned so quickly from his hunt, Jacob, pretending to be Esau, responds in an intentionally vague way, saying: “The Lord, your God, let things turn out well for me.” Even though Jacob intends by this statement to deceive his father, his words carry a literal truth. The Lord did, indeed, “let things turn out well with” Jacob, insofar as God permitted him to inherit the blessing of the firstborn. What are we to make of the fact that God would allow this to happen – that he would allow a blessing to come to a man who gained it through deceit?
A little background is in order here. Earlier in Genesis (25:23), Isaac’s wife Rebekah was praying to God for help with a difficult pregnancy: it felt as if her twins were wrestling inside of her. In answer to her prayer, God said that, of the two boys within her, “the elder shall serve the younger.” In this way, God had already foretold that Jacob would be blessed in a manner normally reserved to the firstborn. A few verses later in Genesis, this plan seems to be coming to fulfillment when Esau foolishly sells his birthright to Jacob for a meal.
God’s word to Jacob and Rebekah is clear enough: Jacob will receive the blessing. The problem comes when Rebekah and Jacob conspire to take through deceit what God had already promised to give freely. Instead of trusting in God’s word and letting him bring about the fulfillment of his promise according to his own divine plan and timing, Jacob takes matters into his own hands. Since God is not one to “micromanage” his economy of grace, he allows Isaac’s fatherly authority to do what it is designed to do: to bless his son.
Because God allows this, we might be led to believe that God approved of the deceitful way in which Jacob obtained the blessing. But we would be wrong. Even though the Bible does not immediately issue a judgment against Jacob’s sin, the judgment is revealed in the bad consequences that result from his deceit over time.
The first of these bad consequences is that Esau, upon discovering that he was robbed of his blessing, vows to kill Jacob, which prompts Jacob to flee from the Promised Land. Next, Jacob the deceiver “reaps what he sows” when his uncle Laban deceives him. After working seven years to gain Laban’s daughter Rachel in marriage, his uncle switches his daughters so that Jacob unwittingly consummates marriage with Leah instead. Jacob must work seven more years before he can marry Rachel, his true love, and another six years beyond that before he can finally return to the Promised Land. Later in his life, Jacob is again deceived, this time by his own sons, regarding the fate of their brother Joseph. So, even though the Bible does not directly state a judgment against Jacob’s deceit of his father, the judgment is revealed in the many and far-reaching consequences of his sin, which he and subsequent generations of his family must deal with.
While Jacob has to “reap what he has sown”, and thus incur the just punishment for his sins, he is simultaneously led on a journey of personal growth that conveys the mercy of God. When he returns to the Promised Land after twenty years away, Esau welcomes him with an embrace and the two bestow blessings on one another. They are reconciled. Jacob has the blessing that God promised him long ago, but only now does he enjoy the fraternal peace that God always wanted him to have along with the blessing. Because he grasped for the blessing in his way and according to his own timing, he had to endure the consequences of his sin before coming to reconciliation with the brother whom he offended.
There are lessons for us in the story of Jacob, even as it relates to the stories of our own personal vocations. We are grateful to be living the blessing of a consecrated life, to which Jesus has indeed called us. Even so, as we grow in maturity in this vocation through greater self-awareness, we can look back and recognize that our motives for following God’s call haven’t always been 100% pure.
Yes, we have been sincere; and yes, we are living a true vocation. But mixed in with the best of motives and the truest of personal sacrifices have been aspects of immaturity requiring purification. For instance, in the beginning, some of us used religious devotion as a way to “cover up” unhealed wounds. Some of us pretended that “giving up everything” and following Jesus could make us forget about disappointing experiences in our past. Some of us took shelter in a regimented way of life in order to feel secure. Some of us saw the intellectual pursuit of virtue as a way of controlling difficult emotions instead of feeling those emotions. Some of us saw the pursuit of a life of “perfection” as a way of avoiding the reality of our imperfections and the need for painful growth.
And so, some years into our vocations, we discover more about who we really are. We may not like what we see when we view our sins and problems for what they are; but that is when we need to see ourselves as God sees us. Jesus has always seen us as we are. He always sees our love, and the imperfection of our love. And he always loves us – deeply, strongly, permanently. All the while, he has been blessing us and calling us forward.
Trusting God’s promises means letting him fulfill the promises in his own way, even when we don’t understand what he is doing. When we “grasp” impatiently to obtain blessings, we may still enjoy his favor, but we also have to “reap what we sow”: we must repent of our sins and be purified of our imperfect motives. But the process of repentance, growth, purification, and reconciliation is a work of God’s mercy in our lives. As long as we remain with God, his promise to make us blessed and happy will be fulfilled, and we will come to rejoice in his ways, like the Psalmist who sang: “Praise the Lord for the Lord is good!”
Mary is a model of trusting God to bless us in his way. Being “immaculate”, she is without stain of moral imperfection. Her motives and means of following God’s will are always pure. She says “yes” to God, and she deepens that “yes” when God’s manner of fulfilling his promise becomes hard to understand. She shows us sinners that, by faith, it is possible to let God, who has promised us his blessing, be the one to bring that blessing to its fulfillment in Christ Jesus our Lord.
O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.