Sometimes I find the Bible incredibly unsatisfying. I am reading the parts of the Israelite history I don’t know very well, and to be honest, they’re parts of the Bible I usually try to avoid. The God of the Old Testament seems so often fierce and unforgiving. Last week I read Joshua and cried for Achan’s and his household, the women and children all stoned to death for this one man’s sin. And so many people of Canaan similarly struck down with swords. No prisoners allowed– total destruction in the name of the Lord.
Theologians offer explanations for this violence. The people destroyed by Israel were corrupt, they say. We all deserve the same death, they say. If we’ve forgotten that, we’ve forgotten the gospel.
I can’t argue with them, but I’m still uneasy. It doesn’t seem like God gives everyone the same chance. How can people be held responsible for the cultures they are born in, for the things they are raised to believe?
If you’re interested, I thought this was perhaps the best explanation. Not that it answered every question, or that the answers made it seem all right, but I thought it at least gave a good overview of some things I might not have thought of.
Both before and after reading Joshua, I read this post by Sarah Bessey about wonder and science. The second time, it meant a lot more. I actually clicked the links. I listened to crickets’ chirping slowed down to the speed of a human lifespan, and they sound like a choir of angels. I stared at the pale blue dot of Earth, a speck of dust in the universe, and I realized there is so much I don’t see.
I cannot fathom a God who gives angel voices to crickets, specks of dust on a speck of dust, creatures who live a mere three months. It’s a blink of an eye in the endless stretch of eternity. I cannot fathom a God who became a man, to dwell among the people he set on this tiny blue dot suspended in a ray of light, a God who let us tiny people kill him, all for love.
Do I look at the ants beneath my feet? No. But my God looks at me. We are so small and yet he sees. Does that answer every question? No, not in the slightest. Does it make me less uncomfortable about the parts of the Bible that seem unfair? No. But perhaps I don’t need to know. Perhaps I am asking the wrong questions. As Sarah Bessey wrote in her post,
“Religion in our modern era has been primarily concerned with making God small and knowable. Most of our religious work or scholarship is about breaking complexity into simplicity, systemizing theology, charting timelines, and answering questions. It’s about removing the wonder, bringing God to a manageable deity, an understandable force, to our minds and understandings, our methods and concerns… We want the answers, I know, but it makes me wonder if we are even asking the right questions, let alone if we even see the vast glory upon glory of what lies before us and around us. The most small and common aspects of our lives contain worlds.”
The next day I finished the book Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis. If you haven’t read it, please do. I can best describe it as a true myth, a fantastical story that has made me think about life in an utterly different way. And I think the Lord planned out when I should read it down to the very day, because it spoke to my soul.
I don’t want to go into too much detail, but it is about a woman named Orual who is angry at the gods for reasons that seem very just. Her sister Psyche is sacrificed to a god and ends up in a place much like heaven, but when Orual goes there to find her, she can’t see the palace and the wonder that Psyche claims is there. She says later,
“I say the gods deal very unrightly with us. For they will neither (which would be the best of all) go away and leave us to live our own short days to ourselves, nor will they show themselves openly and tell us what they would have us do. For that too would be endurable. But to hint and hover, to draw near us in dreams and oracles, or in a waking vision that vanishes as soon as seen, to be dead silent when we question them and then glide back and whisper (words we cannot understand) in our ears when we most wish to be free of them, and to show to one what they must hide from another; what is all this but cat-and-mouse play, blind man’s bluff, and mere jugglery? Why must holy places be dark places?”
But when she finally brings her complaint to the gods, she sees how many things in her life were not as she believed them to be, and everything changes. It’s difficult to explain. (You should just read the book.) Some of her last words are,
“I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You yourself are the answer. Before your face, questions die away. What other answer would suffice?”
So all this is to say… there is much I do not understand about God. Sometimes I think I need to understand everything, and what I end up doing is brushing parts of the Bible under the rug or repeating to myself explanations and answers that I don’t quite believe.
I think there is room for a faith that says I don’t know. That asks questions we won’t find the answers to in this life. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (1 Cor. 13.12)
As a sidenote, I also found a band, called The Collection, that voices some of these thoughts. There are only a handful of bands I really enjoy that sing about Jesus, but I’ve been listening for two days and I’m in love with the reality of their faith. They are beautifully frustrated and triumphant, weighed down and set free, doubting yet full of hope.