If you are a Christian who takes the bible seriously, there will often come a point where you feel hamstrung by the bible. You may be inclined to, say, allow women into ministry or accept gay marriage or get a tattoo. But there are those bible verses which clearly speak against them. So, out of obedience to God, you accept that God works in mysterious ways, his ways are always good and some things are just beyond us.
In response to your faithfulness, other people get mad at you and call you sexist or homophobic or legalistic or whatever. And depending on how well you know Jesus, you either humbly take it in stride or you fight back. (You have to know Jesus really, really well to be capable of taking it all in stride, btw.) After a while you can end up feeling like you’re standing on the razor’s edge between being faithful and being a loving, decent person.
But Jesus said that the truth would set us free and standing on a razor’s edge doesn’t leave much room for freedom, does it? Somehow, simply being faithful to scripture has left you standing on one spot, unable to move, exposed to the world’s wrath and struggling against your own weaknesses. It doesn’t feel much like freedom.
The problem is a problem which God has been dealing with since time immemorial. The problem is with us and lies at the very heart of our relationship with God, self and other.
You see, God loves humanity. He’s on our side. We, however, struggle to love ourselves and each other. And the only way we can comprehend God’s love for humanity is if it is foreign and strange. If God loves humanity, he must not love the same way that we love, because there’s no way God can look at us with all our sin and failure and be happy with us. So we’re not too surprised when God tells us to do things which don’t make sense; we’re really not capable of understanding God’s love, after all.
Great, you say. That may well be true, but what does that have to do with the uncomfortable position Christians often find themselves in when following the bible? Well, let I explain.
Perhaps you recall a couple of weeks ago when I quoted Rabbi Biotech regarding Noah. Noah, he noted, is not considered a hero in the Jewish faith. And despite supposedly being one of the only humans left alive at one point, he is not considered the father of the Jewish people.
The reason is that when God told Noah that he was going to kill everyone except Noah and his small family, Noah said OK and got to work. He was obedient. He didn’t argue. He may have thought God’s plan was a good one or he may have figured that God works in mysterious ways and some things are just beyond us.
Compare that to the man who is considered the father of the Jewish people, Abraham. When God told Abraham that he was going to destroy Sodom and Gemorrah over their wickedness, Abraham begins bargaining, “if 50 good men can be found in the city, will you spare the city? How about 45? 40? 30? 20? 10?”
Moses likewise defends his people against God’s wrath and punishment. Job told God that he had erred in even creating him and demands an explanation. Jacob refused to take “no” for an answer and stayed up all night before an important meeting wrestling in order to get what he wanted. Thomas demanded proof before he’d believe. Paul occasionally felt the need to let us know how things would work if he were in charge before telling us what God’s way was.
Unfortunately, the church has taught us all to be Noahs. It has taught us that if there is a conflict between the human being standing in front of me and God’s word, we should be obedient. Even if we end up breaking relationships and hurting people in the process.
But that’s not what we see in the bible. In the bible, people who heard straight from the mouth of the Lord God Almighty pushed back. And they didn’t just raise an objection, they stayed up all night wrestling. They weren’t even above pressing their advantage when God made some concession. Instead of responding with praise and celebration that the Lord of Heaven and Earth was so good, they pressed for more. And more.
They did it because people’s lives were at stake. They did it because “if you do not love your brother, you cannot love God.” These people saw the face of God because of their ability to love. They were willing to place themselves in willful opposition to God’s stated desires for two reasons:
1. Because they trusted God to care what they had to say.
2. Because they loved themselves and their people enough to fight for them.
I was going to just write this about disagreements over theology and culture issues in the church. But as I got to this point, it occurred to me how much bigger this is than that.
You see, I spent most of the morning thinking of a way to write a post basically saying, “HELP! I’m not really OK!” that wouldn’t make us all uncomfortable. I’m feeling a bit better now, but in truth it is unnerving to me that life can be this awful – and worse. Not for everyone, fortunately, but for way too many people, life is way too hard.
I’ve gotten to the point that I can’t see my own struggle and suffering separate from what’s going on in the world generally. There are too many people suffering severe trauma from war, abuse, slavery, violence and neglect. There are too many people paying ridiculously high prices for simple mistakes, bad luck or ignorance. There are too many people who have no feasible way out of their pain and suffering.
And not just abstract people far away. People like me. Or my husband who I’m pretty sure is a hair’s breath away from having a permanent breakdown. Or a dozen other people I know who are on the edge. And the dozen people you know and all those people far away we don’t know. We live in a world which is good, with people who are very good. Yes. That is true. But it is also a world of intense, unbearable suffering for too many people. We may be very good, but so many of us very good creations are also being utterly destroyed by life.
I do know that humanity has done an amazing job making life better in a lot of ways. (Don’t believe me. Go watch this.) We got there because of people, many of them Christians, who have been fighting for humanity for a long time. But we’re not OK. Mental illness is endemic in nearly all parts of the world. So many people suffer from oppression, yet those who are free are struggling to learn how to handle their responsibilities. Suicide, addiction and abuse rates are all higher than you’d expect, from Saudi Arabia to Russia to Great Britain and everywhere in between. Our churches and families and neighbors are often the last people we feel like we can turn to for comfort or help. And we won’t even go into the mess we’ve made politically, socially and economically.
And the thing is that even if we can make everything all better at some time in the future, that does nothing for all the people for whom the present is a living nightmare. It’s unacceptable. I don’t care how much all this might be our own fault, no one deserves to suffer this way. And certainly not when the people who are suffering the most are the least responsible for creating this situation; children, the poor, the vulnerable.
I think the time has come for us to stop being Noahs. It’s well and fine to be obedient and keep running the race and trusting in God. But there is a time and place for fighting with God for our own sake and our people’s sake.
Or maybe fighting’s not the right word. God loves us. He’s on our side. We don’t have to fight him to get what we need. But I think we need to show God that we’ve learned to love ourselves and each other enough to recognize when we’ve had enough and need help. That we finally understand that when it comes right down to it, he’d rather we fought for ourselves and each other than go along with what he’s said.
We keep asking where God is, why doesn’t he show up? But perhaps he’s waiting for his Bride to figure out what Abram and Jacob and Moses and many other of our faith’s heroes knew:
1. God can be trusted to care what we think.
2. That we love ourselves and our people enough to fight even the Lord God Almighty over it.
So maybe you stop being a Noah by telling God that you no longer care what his scriptures say, you’re going to go love on your gay neighbor. You’re going to make sure a vulnerable girl has birth control. You’re going to find a church with a female preacher and let her teach you about God. If she has a tattoo or two, so much the better!
For my part, this is the prayer I’ve been saying many times a day which I invite y’all to join in and pass around:
“God, this is too hard. This life is too hard for us. The current state of things is not right. It is not good. It is beyond our ability to set right. It cannot go on any longer. I don’t know what you are waiting for, but we need you to show up now. We can’t wait any longer. I can’t wait any longer. You saved us from the afterlife before. We need you to save us in this life now.”
The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand. ~ Revelation 8:4