Wednesday, September 9, 2009

what God asks

The same God who promised Abraham a nation of descendants turned right around and asked him to kill his only son.

I wonder if we try to justify God and His behavior at times. We say things like 'He sees the big picture' and then we paint that picture in elaborate theological hues, often to evade such things as 'blood atonement' and 'child sacrifice.' Is it so that we can feel better about the outright scandal that is a part of the story of God and His people throughout scripture and throughout history? Is it so that we can feel a little less rejected, ridiculed or stupid when atheists point and call us 'dangerous' or hypocritical?

The truth is, the story of Abraham eventually describes God as commanding a kind of child-sacrifice (though the Jewish tradition notes that Isaac was a grown man at this point). But regardless as to how you frame it, it is atrocious. As Christians we are happy to make this story about Christ and then turn quickly to the New Testament. But God does not stop telling people to do things that are absolutely horrendous by anybody's standards throughout scripture - and history. Genocide, child-killing, prostitute-marrying, getting knocked-up by ghosts, preaching the gospel when it means a death sentence to everyone involved, including the new converts and their families. The scandal of the gospel itself was horrendous to the Jews of Jesus' time. It birthed a whole new [pagan] church that had something to do with cannibalism (as far as Judaism was concerned). And it is the scandal of the gospel that has prompted people like John Wesley to postulate a quadrilateral approach to faith, lest any one of us become the Wacko in Waco or a Hale-Bop Comet-Hopper, or just decide to go on blood-bath crusades.

I think we wrestle with this scandal partially because we want to rest in our own judgment, our own ability to reason and rationalize and understand, and we want to cling to our own social context for making sense of the creation and the Creator. We want to be able to sell Christianity on the open market with all the other philosophies and religions with confidence that it meets FDA standards, labeling it clearly for those who want a little more faith in their diet - but not so much that it clogs the arteries - as a legitimate alternative to atheism or agnosticism. We want to say, "God doesn't DO that," or "That isn't Christian" because it helps us sidestep the real issues of frustration, anger, fear, betrayal, despair, and the unknown.

But God says the foolishness of man is His wisdom and His wisdom is foolishness to man. He says that our ways or NOT His ways and His ways are not ours. Scripture also teaches us that against the fruit of the Spirit there is no law. Do we realize how scandalous that is? Maybe that is why, when Abraham left Sarah to go sacrifice his son it was credited to him as righteousness, because against faith, against hope, against love there is no law (which, by the way, doesn't mean that there is no law against faith, hope and love, but that, in comparison to these ultimate tests, the law is non-existent. It holds no weight, it has no authority). The greatest law is love.

Scandal!

Here's what I think. I think that our sin in the garden was thinking that we could know good and evil apart from God, that, in essence, we could become gods by our own rationale. Eve saw the fruit and decided that, setting aside the whole God thing, that it was good for food and she ate it. And we have been buying in to that frame of reference ever since. We divorce reason from relationship and in so doing fracture our own identities, our very connection with reality, by creating alternate selves, alternate worlds, alternate stories. We discuss situations where certain behaviors can be judged by themselves (as if behavior ever happens outside of motivation, emotion, social and historical context and relationship) based on some sort of inherent knowledge of right and wrong ... that sounds a lot like a tree in the Garden of Eden to me.

Did you know that God chose Jacob over Esau? Jacob was a mama's boy, a manipulative liar. There was nothing inherently right about him. We can make up a lot of stories as to how Jacob's succession as heir fits into some kind of plan that fits into some kind of ordered universe of right and wrong, just and unjust. But the truth is, it's really about God. God does stuff all the time that doesn't make sense and that affronts our sensibilities. The fact that He calls the Jews his people and others, at best, grafted-in, well, it kind of infers that we weren't all created equal, doesn't it? Maybe they are chosen and others are grafted in all as some sort of product of the fall from the perfect, ordered universe that still kind of exists and that we should somehow be able to tune into if we try really, really hard, but that still sounds like a tree in the Garden of Eden to me, in some ways.

But what if there were a perfect God who is not subject to our standards and all the rules we have come up with as we're eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil? What if we could get to know Him instead? What if we stopped trying to justify ourselves and justify God by "the law" but lived in the Spirit, in relationship with God and others, in reality instead?

Yeah, the truth is, that's just a half-baked question and I'm a fan of the quadrilateral approach, myself. If I were Abraham I could imagine myself being brave and setting up the altar, but about the time it really came to doing something, I'd be like, "Um, okay God, I can't do this..."

However, God told me once to sacrifice something very precious to me. And when it came right down to it, I couldn't not do it. Even so,I had to tell God He would have to do it for me. So He did. And in so doing, I acted in direct opposition to scripture - well, to several verses, anyway, all while living several others out more fully than I have ever done before. And people called me what they wanted to - crazy, sinner, wrong, misled, rebellious. I was removed from public leadership, banned from small group, and investigated. And when all was said and done, the pastor apologized to me. The whole time, God merely said, "This is the fruit of My Spirit; against these there is no law."

But along with that story is another in which God told me to lay hands on a crippled boy and tell him that he was healed. I did not do it. I stood in a room of pastors as a 25 year old girl and said, "Me? You would ask me to do this among all here?" And I froze.

God does ask scandalous things of us, of me, constantly. I have both acted in faith and I have failed to act along the way. The question doesn't seem to be 'might God ask something of us as He did of Abraham?" but rather "God IS asking something of you; what is it?" The question isn't "How will I respond," it's "How am I responding?"

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