Every day, people live their lives with no thought of God. They go through their days thinking that what they see in front of them is all there is to reality. Such a person might say, “It’s up to me to make my own way. I can do whatever I think is right.”
Esau embodies this sort of godlessness. He grew up as Abraham’s grandson, a child of the promise who’d certainly heard about God’s call and miraculous leading firsthand. He was a man’s man, a skilled hunter, and a daddy’s boy—the favored son. He had everything going for him, but he forfeited it all. By selling the benefits associated with his firstborn status for a simple bowl of stew, Esau displayed contempt for God’s gifts (Genesis 25:34; Hebrews 12:16). And it didn’t stop there. Esau went further in his foolish disregard for God and His ways when he took two pagan wives; two women became burdens of grief for his parents (Genesis 26:34–35).
As Christians, we can be quick to judge folks like Esau who make up their own rules for life. But the truth is that even religious folk like us are tempted to live in godless ways. In Marilynne Robinson’s novel, Gilead, the old pastor, John Ames, laments the sort of religious person who, in his pride, works hard at defending the truth without having first experienced it. Ames says, “You can assert the existence of something… having not the slightest notion of what it is.” How often are we like that? How often do we speak up to defend the message of the cross but do so with snark or contempt for others who don’t live up to our standards?
Esau moved through life without thought of God, and that resulted in foolish choices. It also led him to bitterness. When Jacob betrayed him and stole his blessing, Esau couldn’t handle the injustice, so he held a grudge (Genesis 27:41).
When we see this part of Esau’s story, we should all take warning. Bitterness is what godlessness typically looks like in the heart of a religious person. Religious folks may not play the fool publicly, but we can certainly keep account when someone does us wrong. We might even feel justified in our grudge-holding. But bitter roots will defile us (Hebrews 12:15). When we hold a grudge, we’ve failed to acknowledge God’s goodness and providence over our lives. Even when the events of our lives don’t turn out in line with our hopes and expectations, we should trust that “for those who love God all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28). Submitting our life to God’s purpose will always be better than trying to live without Him.
Written by Jared Kennedy