Nothing is Outside His Will

"Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the Lord had closed her womb. Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her."
1 Samuel 1:4-6, NIV

This passage from Samuel has long intrigued me. For several years I wrestled with questions about God’s will, those who experience horrible things through no fault of their own and how God could be the “author” of such suffering. For the record, I don’t believe God is the author of suffering. Suffering is part and parcel of living in a world that is broken by sin and evil.

Yet, in 1 Samuel 1:4-6, we read that God is described clearly as the cause of Hannah’s barrenness, thus leaving her open to mocking and antagonism by Elkanah’s second wife.

“The Lord closed her womb.”

What are we to make of this? To modern minds, we might interpret this as God’s explicit will and purpose was to cause Hannah the heartache of not bearing children, only to change His mind later (1:19), but by this measure, I’m not sure that God is to be trusted! And, on the contrary, Lamentations 3:33 says of God that “he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone.” The New Testament likewise apportions responsibility to the Devil for such griefs: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

I wonder if we are mistaking the true intent of 1 Samuel here.

I wonder if the meaning of God’s will with Hannah’s experience of childlessness needs to begin from a different vantage point.

What if we trusted God’s ultimate power over all things such that even where the brokenness of the world and the wiles of the Devil were not outside of His redemptive purposes? What if God’s will is and can sweep up the depths of our despair, the heartbreak and griefs that weigh us down and bring goodness and life where the Devil wants only death and loss?

“God closing Hannah’s womb” is less about direct cause and effect so much as saying that whatever the reasons for her inability to bear children, God is not so removed from the picture as to be powerless. He is still God. Hannah and her childlessness are not outside His will. While evil and sin may be directly behind such suffering, that does not mean such pain is irredeemable. And, in turn, that is exactly the message we find at the Cross.
The Rev. Dr. Suse E. McBay, Ph.D.
Associate for Christian Education and Riverway
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