Choosing between family members is always tough. This is just one of many tough choices we face in life. Part of what makes things tough is we can’t fully predict the future results of our choices. Another part of the difficulty is we don’t usually have all the facts. Then, when dealing with situations like choosing between family members, there’s always the problem that someone’s feelings could get hurt. All of these weigh in on the decision and make things a lot tougher than we’d like. However, avoiding the decision is no good. If anything, problems tend to get bigger over time, not smaller. We may think they get smaller, but the truth of the matter is that the problems may just be growing underground.
For instance, we could have slighted a family member with a poor choice of words. We know that we need to go to that person and swallow our pride and apologize but we can’t decide how or when to do it. So we just dodge the family member except in group settings. At those, said family member is cordial, and the problem isn’t out in the open. So we continue to defer the decision about how and what to do thinking things will be okay. What we don’t see, however, is that resentment is continuing to build in our family member’s heart. If we never make that decision, the resentment will continue to build until one day something unwanted happens. Either the person blows up in a group setting, seeks revenge, or simply writes us off. None of those are good outcomes. Those consequences are the results of avoiding the decision.
Abraham was faced with a tough choice. There was once again conflict between Sarah and Hagar. He was married to them both, however, Sarah was the one given to him by God and she bore the child through whom the promise would be carried, Isaac. Yet Hagar was the mother of his first born son. In this situation, there were no good options for Abraham. He didn’t know what to do. Obviously he loved Ishmael very much because he was torn by Sarah’s request to put Hagar and Ishmael out of the house. What could he do?
And the child grew and was weaned. And Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, laughing. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.” And the thing was very displeasing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, “Be not displeased because of the boy and because of your slave woman. Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your offspring be named. And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring.” – Genesis 21:8-13, ESV
Abraham realized he needed help. We’re not told how he had a conversation with God, but obviously he did, as God gave Abraham the choice he needed to take: let Hagar and Ishmael go. As I said previously, there weren’t any good options here. The past sins had come back to haunt this family and now they had reached a breaking point. The only way to keep any part of the family intact was to break the conflict, at least for now. I’m sure this hurt Abraham deeply. After all, Ishmael was the first born. Ishmael was growing into a young man and Abraham had spent years with his son. He loved and cared about this boy. It seemed so cruel to just cast him out. He likely realized this was his only option, that things couldn’t be rolled back and everything made okay again. However, that wouldn’t heal the ache in his heart.
God doesn’t leave Abraham like this. Note what God said. Ishmael would be provided for. Ishmael would also be okay. He would grow into a nation, too. There would be consequences down the line, but God didn’t mention them, much less dwell on them. Those were already in the future because of the past sins. Right now it was important to tend to His servant, Abraham. Abraham needed encouragement to make the right decision or things would get far, far worse.
When we’re faced with tough decisions, we need to go to God. We can’t see and know everything. We might be able to partially see the consequences of each choice, but we can’t ever see them fully. Therefore, going to the One who has all wisdom and all knowledge is the most logical thing to do. Also, when we’re faced with a tough decision, it may be hard to make the right choice, even when we understand what it is. One of the things God can do for us is provide us reassurance and comfort to make that choice. He may do this even if the whole reason we’re in the tough situation is because of our past sins. While God cares about the past, He wants us to make the right decisions in the present. Dwelling on the past and refusing to act just leads to worse consequences. After all, this is how Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, and Ishmael got to the point where Hagar and Ishmael had to go. Prior situations weren’t properly dealt with. We must make those hard choices and God wants to ensure that we do so. Therefore, He will provide the support we need. However, it all begins by first turning to God for help.