“Nevertheless he regarded their affliction, when he heard their cry:” (Psalm 106:44)
nev⋅er⋅the⋅less [nev-er-th uh-les] adverb: nonetheless; notwithstanding; however; in spite of that:
The bondwoman and the freewoman: Hagar and Sarah. As the story goes – God promised Abraham a son of his own. Sarah, being an old woman, reasoned that she could not give birth at such an advanced age and so gave her handmaiden, Hagar, to be a surrogate. Being a servant, Hagar really didn’t have any say in the matter, so she laid with Abraham and gave him a son – Ishmael. But afterwards, God revealed to Abraham that Ishmael was not his plan – Abraham was still destined to have a son with Sarah. It came to pass that, 14 years later, Sarah did deliver a son when she was about 90 years old and Abraham was about 100! By then, Ishmael and Hagar had fallen out of favor with Sarah so she pressured Abraham to send them away. Sarah wanted no competition for her son, Isaac, who stood to inherit everything from his father. God had also promised that Isaac would become a great nation. Abraham was dismayed because he was forced to choose until God assured him that Ishmael would be blessed, too.
So Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael on their way. At some point, she gave up – out of food and water, the journey and her desperate circumstances became too much for her. They were stranded in the desert; they had no place to go and no help in sight. Hagar hid her son in shelter so that she would not have to watch him die. Then the angel of the LORD heard the cries of her son and came to Hagar, comforting her. He told her that her son was destined to become a great nation, too. Hagar looked up and saw a well – water! She and her son were saved. They lived in the desert and Ishmael became an archer. God blessed him and he eventually became the father of 12 princes, well on his way to becoming a great nation. (Genesis 21) I guess my favorite part of the story is when Isaac and Ishmael came together to bury Abraham. I picture them standing together. It suggests to me that they must have made peace with their origins.
For me, this story illustrates how God can take our convoluted messes and bring good out of it, even restoring justice and balance. My late pastor used to say “If it’s crooked, God can straighten it out.” My own life has taken many twists and turns but I’ve watched God create order out of the chaos, just like he did in the beginning. Even our own well-meaning mistakes can work out for our good. Everything that we go through can be used to mold us into the people we need to become. Nothing is wasted. It may not be HIS plan but he works through the tangled mess and uses it anyway to get us where we need to be. Too often, the end he creates for me is much better than the one I envisioned.
God has surrounded me with quite a cast of characters and I draw on them frequently for anecdotes because, frankly, they give me really good material to work with. I love some of the things they say – they minister to me. As one friend said, “You can learn something from everybody – either they teach you how to do it or how NOT to do it!” So I listen, I observe and I glean lessons from my friends, as well as other folks I come into contact with. One such friend shared with me the story of how she lamented over the state of her life. How did she get to this point? Divorced and out of work. No prospects because she had no degree. The kids were probably acting out, too. You name it, she probably complained about it as she literally cried into her bowl of cereal. She was fully miserable about it until a voice reached her into the gloom and depression, saying: “I am the God of nevertheless.”
That was a defining moment in her life. God spoke to her and the message was clear – despite all that she’d done and went through, he could make it right. It was like a promise. Her future was not determined by her past mistakes. Despite the twists and turns that were not part of His plan, he was still able to make something wonderful come of it. It meant she could have a fresh start. She took those words to heart. I can tell you now that my friend is on her way to a better life since she heard that voice. She’s in college, working toward her degree in education. She wants to be a teacher. And she’s employed now. She turned her life around.
I’ve lived the past few years of my life in a constant state of “nevertheless”. Time and again, God has taken my trials and intertwined them with his will in such a way that they have become my success stories. He’s given me hope that I can rise above my present circumstances, whatever they may be. January is the month when we all look for a new start, New Year, new resolutions. We want to improve our life and overcome our failings. But sometimes it can be difficult to go forward and not think of all the times we’ve failed to successfully quit smoking, drinking, overeating, cussing or whatever we feel our shortcomings are. This year, we can resolve to move forward realizing that God can make our past failures of no consequence. It doesn’t matter what came before. He is the God of Nevertheless.