Can God Be Trusted to Keep a Promise? (Image Vol 10, No 3 – May-June 1994)

By Matt Dabbs

By Larry James

We build our hopes and dreams and plans for tomorrow on promises, don’t we? Yet, we live in a world where promise-breaking seems to be increasingly common- even expected. Promises feel good when we receive them from people we love, respect, and trust; they fill us with expectation, motivation, and purpose they leave us breathless with anticipation. Broken promises “chop us off at the knees.” They send us reeling. They leave us breathless, drowning in an ocean of tears, despair, anger, disappointment, and fear. So much of life gets arranged around promises.

Mary stood beside Jim almost twenty years ago when he uttered the promise that made her his wife. The word returned to her now: something about having and holding, for better of for worse, both in sickness and in health…until “death do us part.” But today the death that parted them was the death of his promise. Jim could articulate his “reasons” – incompatibility, pressure from work, another person to whom he promised and gave too much. To Mary, all his words added up to a broken promise.

Allen accepted the offer, signed the contract, and worked hard and faithfully for almost thirty years with the company that hired him right out of engineering school. His career track led to great benefits, profit-sharing, and the “certain” prospect of a comfortable, secure retirement. But unknown to him, somewhere along the way, the world changed and with it all the rules of his workplace. He had been “laid off” (the phrase seemed weak and totally inadequate to describe what he experienced) just short of retirement, with little hope of beginning again at his age. Feelings of betrayal and injustice engulfed Allen, threatening to destroy him and all he had worked so hard to build. With tears in his eyes he told me, “They didn’t keep their promises.”

Friendship is just not supposed to work this way. Growing up together as best friends, Shannon and Heather made solemn promises. Loyalty, mutual defense, and unending devotion protected them all through high school against peer pressure, “clueless” teenage boys, and the ups and downs of school politics and popularity. Then came David, the blonde, bronze, beautiful, bold boy. In a heartbeat he stepped between them. From Shannon’s perspective, their friendship of over a decade evaporated in a single spring afternoon. Why? Broken promises.

She should have stayed. She told him she would never leave, that she would be all right, that God would make her well. But at age thirty-one, his mother died. She might not have intended to make a promise, but he took her words as a guarantee. Nine years old, with baseball cap, tattered jeans, and tearstained smudge on his face, he tried to explain to the guys on his Little League team why his mom couldn’t bring the soft drinks after games this year. She said she would stay. But she didn’t.

—–

In a world where disappointment and broken promises seem commonplace, can I really trust anyone? Even more important, can I trust God as a promise keeper? As we wrestle with this question, I’ve got a story to review with you before making three observations about the nature of God’s promises.

What God promised to a man named Abraham, he brought to initial completion in the life of a man named Joshua. A summary paragraph toward the end of Joshua’s story serves as the conclusion of an epic saga that began centuries earlier:

Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land which he swore to give to their fathers; and having taken possession of it, they settled there. And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers; not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands. Not one of all the good promises which the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass. (Josh. 21:43-45 – RSV)

Joshua elaborates later by tracing this history of Israel from the call of Abraham down to the time of the successful conquest of Canaan (Josh. 24:1-13). To make a long, complex story short and simple: God brought the children of Abraham into the land he had promised to the head of their family.

What does this short summary of God’s dealings with his ancient people tell us about his promises to us? In a world of broken promises, what can we expect from Joshua’s God?

First, God’s promises usually turn out to be of the “long-haul” variety. God takes the long view with us as his people collectively and as his persons individually. In making a promise, he always provides us plenty of room, time, and space to assume our own responsibilities and to make our own decisions in the course of life. Yet, a part of the power of God’s promises resides in the fact that no matter what we decide or choose, God’s promises remain valid, trustworthy, and in tact. For confirmation, remember Israel! God promised Abraham, the head of the family, a fresh start in a new land. Abraham realized the promise before he died. Even though famine forced him to spend time in Egypt and in spite of the facet that he knew suffering, difficulty, and doubt firsthand, he moved into the land of Canaan and lived just as God promised. Before the nation of Israel realized the blessing of God’s promise, the descendants of Abraham endured suffering, disappointment, slavery, and rebellions. The wilderness wandering confronts us with a story of pain and disappointment, but the fact remains: God kept his promise.

Second, God’s promises provide peace for those who receive them (Josh. 21:44). Go back and read the entire story of Jewish history from Abraham to Joshua. In the midst of the ups and downs of victory and defeat, throughout the narrative of obedience and insurrection, you’ll notice a stability and a quit determination sustaining those players who placed their trust in Yahweh. Peace often comes after struggle and pain. People do not arrive at “rest” in the same manner. Abraham’s story reads differently than Jacob’s. The specifics of Jacob’s biography share little in common with Caleb’s. However the conclusion of each person’s faith story reads the same: peace and rest in the surety of God’s unfailing promises.

Third, God’s promises can be counted on as reliable. “Not one of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass” (Josh. 21:45 – RSV). Unlike human promises, plans and predictions, God’s promises were eventually fulfilled exactly as he indicated they would be – overcoming every obstacle, defeating every foe, both external and internal. In spite of the fact that he had to work with flawed, fearful, doubting people just like us, God kept his promises…all of them! From the barren womb of Sarah to the faltering faith of reluctant Moses, from the lying lips of fearful Abraham to the roaring tide of the Red Sea, God perfectly accomplished every plan in his own time for the good of his people. Because of their fundamental dependability, God’s promises serve us well as the foundation we need for building an unshakable life.

Faith is usually anything but easy. Living in a broken world, experiencing the fallout of broken promises, it is difficult to trust, isn’t it? After all, finding someone you can really “count on” grows tougher and tougher. Remember God’s amazing promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3? God brought it to initial completion at the time of Joshua. But the full completion of the promise came generations after Joshua.

As followers of Jesus, we understand his words to Abraham to be the heart of all God’s promises: “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12:3b). Christians see this as a promise of the blessing arriving only in and through Jesus Christ, one of the sons of Abraham! Paul would certainly agree when he writes, “For in him every one of God’s promises is ‘Yes.” For this reason it is through him that we say the ‘Amen,’ to the glory of God” (2 Cor. 1:20). Every promise God extends to us begins and ends in Jesus Christ.

God’s faithful promises do not eliminate life’s pain, difficulty, or disappointment. God’s constant loyalty does not guarantee that others will not let us down or fail to fulfill promises they have made to us. His promises do sustain us as we move on through life while assuring us that much better things await us in a future defined, controlled, and guaranteed by his faithful promises.

categoria commentoNo Comments dataFebruary 14th, 2017
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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1585 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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