“As St. Augustine of Hippo says, ‘If you think you understand, it isn’t God.’”
“We are often closer to God in our doubts than in our certainties…it is all right to be like the small child who constantly asks: Why? Why? Why?”
“If my religion is true, it will stand up to all my questioning; there is no need to fear.”
If she is right, this is good news for me, because lately I am full of questions.
Last year we had Marion Bontrager teach our adult Sunday School class using his lectures from the freshman religion class he teaches at Hesston College. The emphasis of the class is the story of God, how God has revealed himself through the Bible and through history. There is a constant theme of God showing himself, people misunderstanding and trying to fit God into their own ideas of him, and then God breaking out of that limitation to reveal himself more truly again.
Because of that class I resolved to read through the Bible again. I chose a reading plan that includes all the parts of the Bible each week. Sunday is from the epistles, Monday from the law, Tuesday from history, Wednesday from Psalms, Thursday from poetry, Friday from prophecy, and Saturday from the gospels and Acts.
It is hard spiritual work. As long as I kept reading the passages in the devotional books I was using in the past, I did not come upon these difficult passages. But the difficult passages, combined with difficult world events, bring all kinds of questions.
The suffering of the people of Iraq, the suffering of the women of Darfur and the Sudan, the slavery still rampant around the world---I don’t know what to do with these. I read the Psalms about God hearing the cries of the brokenhearted. Are these not the brokenhearted?
And then I come to the Old Testament. The other day I read II Kings 1. Elijah prophesies against the king. The king is told about it and sends a commander and 50 soldiers to bring Elijah to the palace. Elijah calls down fire from heaven which consumes them all. This happens a second time. The third time a commander and 50soldiers come, the commander begs Elijah not to ask God to kill them. He is only a messenger. Elijah relents and goes to speak to the king. So God fought for Elijah. Elijah did not have to kill anyone in order to save his own life. But what about those 102 men? When God fights for Israel, people still die. Are they ‘collateral damage’?
God is good. I know this.
God is the champion for the underdog.
In Ezekiel there is a list of reasons why God allowed Israel and Judah to be conquered.
• Shedding of blood in their midst
• Being defiled by idols
• Treat parents with contempt
• Oppress the foreigner
• Mistreat the fatherless and the widows
• Despise holy things
• Desecrate the Sabbath
• Eat at mountain shrines (idolatry)
• Sexual immorality
• Accept bribes to shed blood
• Take interest and profit from the poor
• Extort unjust gain from a neighbor
• Forgot God
• Priests do violence to the law
• Oppress poor and needy
• Deny justice
These are the things that ring true with me. This is the way I see God as revealed through Jesus. God cares deeply for those who are powerless. God demands holiness. God expects mercy toward those on the fringe.
But what do I do with the God who kills 100 men because Elijah calls for it?
If Jesus is the truest expression of God, and I believe that He is, then I can trust that there are things about these other stories that I just don’t understand. Nevertheless, the stories are there. They beg for explanation, for understanding, and I’m not there yet.
As for the world today…I wonder what responsibility we as the church, the body of Christ, have to act as God’s agents in the world. As we cry out to God, “Do something!” is God also crying out to us, “Do something!”?