Barrenness as the Precondition for New Life

Last Tuesday the Lectionary Bible Study began a study of the Book of Genesis beginning with an overview of Chapters 1—11. This pre-history tells stories focusing on God’s intention for creation and creation’s mixed response to that intention. The ongoing question in these chapters of Genesis is “Will God be able to bring into being a creation that embodies the unity God intends?” After the stories of creation, garden, Cain and Abel, the flood and the tower, we are left wondering if the answer to that question is no.  God’s project is up in the air because the genealogy that connects these stories to Abraham ends by stating “Sarai was barren; she had no son (Gen. 11:29).” The genealogy ends with a statement of barrenness.

In light of Sarah’s barrenness, the story looks like it will come to a premature close—no heir, no story.  Or is it possible that the barren places of human history are precisely the places God acts? Paul’s answer to that question is Yes! In Romans, he proclaims this astonishing news God acts in the barren place of life when he writes that the God of Abraham is the one “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist (Rom. 4: 17b).” The God of the Bible is a God who can bring something out of nothing, a God for whom no situation is hopeless. This is not only true for Sarah, but also for Rebekah, Rachel, and Israel in the exile.

It is also true for us when we are barren and have come to the end of our resources. What a different take that is on the barren times in life! My first reaction to a barren time is usually to whine and groan about the unfairness and unpleasantness of it all. But what if I could begin to see such times as the essential pre-condition for new life? Let me be clear: I am not suggesting we put on a smiley face during barren times or deny the very real pain. What I am suggesting is that we might begin to see such times as the place where something wonderful is about to be born in God’s own time. Therefore, we can wait patiently for what we do not see (Rom. 8: 25).

Of course, this is the story of Easter. On Good Friday and Holy Saturday, the story has ended in barrenness. When the women come to the tomb, they come to pay their last respects. Then, everything changes. In the midst of their barrenness, they are given a life they never could have imagined.