We flawed human beings are always looking for devices to protect ourselves. We see it in things like insurance policies, home security networks, investment diversification, flu shots, and seat belts. We are constantly devising ways to try to counteract our vulnerability, even in the words we choose in risky commitments — like weddings.
Let me say up front that I’m not categorically averse to getting wedding invitations. I normally like seeing people get married, but I recall one in particular that I was not thrilled about, and not just because I didn’t want to cough up the money for a gift. Well, OK… that idea didn’t excite me either, but that wasn’t the only problem.
Caught in the Web ~
In the first place, I didn’t really know the people involved. Like a hapless, innocent bug in a spider’s web, I had been trapped in a sticky web of workplace relationships. A person I didn’t know was involved in planning a wedding for a presumably “happy couple” I had never met. The whole affair invaded my life because that person had a connection with someone who was somehow related to another party, who was apparently very close to a woman who worked with my wife. As all of us guys know, there’s a matrimonial matrix that begins to form around weddings that exudes some kind of “mood-altering chemical” that results in a state of nuptial intoxication in women. It inevitably infected my wife’s office, and it was pretty much “game over” for me.
Feeling disconnected from the people wasn’t my only point of resistance. This wedding was going to be held on Saturday afternoon, and let’s face it, that’s just cruel. Forcing a guy to wear his church clothes on Saturday and making him sacrifice the best part of his best day off hanging out with people he doesn’t know, munching on little crackers covered with unrecognizable stuff with no identifiable taste, while people drone on and on about things we don’t care about, sounded like pure torture. That kind of thing ought to be done to enemy combatants at Gitmo, not to reasonably nice (“most” of the time) God-fearing, church-going guys like me.
Lacking the courage to purposely fall down the stairs and create a good medical excuse for not going, I was constrained to attend the event, and I must say that it fulfilled my every expectation. They did have cake, but it takes a lot of cake to balance off the impact of forcing a guy with deep Baptist roots into a situation where he’s surrounded by people whose beliefs are roughly 180 degrees out from his own . . . and Weight Watchers would have let the tiny little piece they handed me go for about 2 points.
Actually, it wasn’t a total loss, and I didn’t regret going because I found it instructive in some ways, and the people were very nice. I could tell that some of the other guys were just as happy to be there as I was, which was encouraging. What I did find honestly disturbing was not that some of their beliefs and practices were divergent from the ones I was used to. It was the wedding ceremony itself.
Everything but the Promise ~
The bride and groom composed and recited their own “vows”, a common practice these days and generally not a problem, but theirs were different. They used the word “love” a lot as they pointed out various qualities that attracted them to one another, and identified some things they cherished about their shared experiences and how they anticipated more of the same. The problem (for me) was that in the entire course of the ceremony, nobody actually promised anybody anything. If there was a vow of ongoing commitment to be found, it would have to have been implicit in the phrase they both used to wrap up their public statement of mutual devotion, which was simply, “…for as long as love lasts.”
Applying the benefit of the doubt might grant that their words indicated an intention to maintain their current status as long as the concept of love itself endured, but that wasn’t stated. They could just as easily have meant that their devotion would last only so long as they continued to personally experience whatever combination of emotions they construed to be “love.” If there was a promise to be found, it was only implicit — and when the stakes are high, there is great danger lurking there.
Vital Implications Demand Clarity ~
The use of vague or ambiguous language sometimes grants us some “wiggle room” in case things don’t unfold as planned. Offsetting potential disappointments with obscure generalizations can be tempting, but when it comes to issues of vital importance, we don’t want to base our expectations on deductive assumptions. If a lack of clarity from our surgeon is not acceptable, we certainly wouldn’t want it from God, right?
Perhaps Abraham thought God’s promise of a son was just metaphorical when fulfillment looked humanly impossible. Maybe he deduced that there was an implicit requirement for him and Sarah to apply their own creative cleverness to get it done. We flawed creatures often think that way, but when God makes a promise, He is wonderfully explicit. A simple phrase in Paul’s reference to God’s exchange with Abraham is telling.
For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son. Romans 9:9 (NKJV)
God gave Abraham a clear and explicit word of promise, not a vague suggestion open to hopeful assumptions. The promise of God was not an exercise in ambiguity. He said plainly that Sarah herself would bear a son, not a surrogate forced to deliver an offspring Abraham could claim as fulfillment. God does choose to couch some things in the language of mystery, but not when it comes to promises involving our redemption. Jesus was a paragon of specificity when He said,
I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father except through Me. (John 14:6 NKJV)
The explicit nature of those words holds glorious hope for those who believe them, but that same divine clarity portends eternal disappointment to those who expect to somehow find some “wiggle room.”
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