Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Bring it On

Sometimes I don't like God very much.

I used to think it was just that I didn't like the Old Testament God, that God of the law full of wrath and judgment, and that I preferred the meek and mild New Testament Jesus who would grow up, heal the sick, forgive sinners and die on a cross for me.

OT God does things that I don't understand, like hardening the heart of Pharaoh:

And the Lord said to Moses, "When you go back to Egypt, see that you do all those wonders before Pharaoh which I have put in your hand. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. Ex 4:21 
This passage has plagued me for ages. Like the testing of Job, it reveals an aspect of God that I cannot understand that, frankly, just seems kind of mean. Don't sit there talking about "context" and the mysteriousness or sovereignty of God, pretending you don't agree with me. This isn't like the predestined for salvation brain teaser game we often play, arguing that God "foreknew" who would choose salvation. God is not like Biff Tannin and his ill-gotten sports almanac, simply betting the ones He knew would choose Him anyway. God takes ownership of Pharaoh's hard heart.

We can maybe forgive God for the Pharaoh incident because, let's face it, Pharaoh wasn't exactly a saint. He made slaves of God's Beloved and he did not fear God to begin with. Job we may have a tougher time with because he was one of the good guys. But, since it was actually Satan doing the afflicting and everything turned out alright for Job in the end, we can still get over it.

It’s God's unapologetic manner that we choke on.

Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you and you shall answer Me...Would you indeed annul My judgment? Would you condemn Me that you may be justified? Job 38:2-3, 40:8

"For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth." Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens. You will say to me then "Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?" But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, "Why have you made me like this?"  Romans 9:17-22
Okay, OT God is kind of a jerk. It's a good thing I live in the NT Jesus era, right?

Not right. 

And the disciples came and said to Him "Why do you speak to them in parables?" He answered and said to them, "Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables because seeing they do not see and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. and in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: 'Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing and their eyes they have closed lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn so that I should heal them'" Mt 13:10-15

For I say to you, that to everyone who has will be given; and from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him, Luke 19:26
Hold up, how did OT God's words find their way into the mouth of the sweet baby Jesus?

I made what was probably a bad joke earlier about bible scholars using "context" as an excuse for God's actions. Let me dig myself out a little bit by saying context really does matter. Scholarly exegesis does shine some light on the actions of God in these passages and that light can also bring us some peace, so please don't think that I really don't respect these things.

My point here is that both Old-Covenant-Jehovah and Jesus-the-Christ say some things that are really difficult. These passages reveal a side of God that challenges our understanding of God's justice and purpose and God makes no apology for them. He does not wish us to coat these passages with some chocolately verses on grace to hide the bitter taste. Neither does He want us to grit our teeth like a martyr and swallow the nasty pill. He wants us to truly know every aspect of Him and to love Him more for knowing.

I have to make a confession at this point: I am not in a very faithful frame of mind. The past few months have not been the most exemplary of my Jesus-career. I have questioned God extensively about my life and why the desires He's placed in my heart continue to exist outside of my grasp. At the beginning of the year I agreed to go on a journey with God toward trusting Him more but I haven't taken the first few steps of that journey with grace. But I also believe that, because I do not currently have a rosy attitude toward God, these lessons will be richer and more meaningful.

So I'll admit, sometimes, especially now, I don't particularly like God. I don't like these passages. But there is one more that I want to share that has brought me a bit of peace.

Then the Lord said to Moses, "Rise early in the morning and stand before Pharaoh, and say to him, 'Thus says the Lord God of the Hebrews: "...if I had stretched out My hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, then you would have been cut off from the earth.”But indeed for this purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth. As yet you exalt yourself against My people in that you will not let them go."'" Ex 9:13-21
God still makes no apology to Pharaoh or to us for hardening Pharaoh's heart, but He does something unexpected here:

he tells Pharaoh exactly what He is doing.

He says to Him, point blank, that He could have simply destroyed him, but that He is instead using Him as a vessel for His wrath, a tool to make his name famous in all the earth.

God hardens Pharaoh's heart, but He also tells him what He's doing.

I can't go back and ask Pharaoh why, even after God let's Him in on the plan, He endures four more plagues before letting the people go and then decides to chase them through the wilderness only to be drowned in the Red Sea. I don't know if Pharaoh, in fact, could have done any differently than He did. But I do know that I have a bible in front of me that clearly shows me that there are times when God does difficult things that seem to lead us into sin and then He holds us accountable for it. I may not understand why, but it gives me some peace to know that God is at least honest about it.

Would you think me odd if I told you that this gives me an odd kind of thrill? If I shared with you that, reading these passages last night, I thought to myself, "Aight, God, it’s on!" would you think that sacrilegious?

Though my initial thought was, I admit, a bit cavalier, let me give you an exhortation nevertheless:

When God sets an impossible situation in front of you, instead of crying out against God for His unreasonable demands, why not accept the challenge?

If you've walked with God for any length of time, I guarantee that you've experience His goodness and grace. You know that God is good or you wouldn't be here. Don't you think that His goodness even extends through this impossible situation? Why not be bold and make a sucker bet on that goodness?

Be wild, step into the lion's den with me and say:

"Okay God you brought me here. I might be ripped to pieces and the spectators may mock my idiocy, but I will not be an easy mark like Pharaoh and exalt myself against You. I will not cry out against You so I can be rebuked like Job. I refuse to walk away from my faith and be condemned because of it.

Bring it on, Mufasa."
--Sarah Elizabeth


  1. I love, love, love this post. It emcompasses everything that I've been wrestling with as well. But you know what? Even though I don't understand and I'm having a hard time reconciling God of the OT vs God of the NT, I have not lost faith. I trust that God will make sense of the mess in my brain in time.

  2. Thanks Megan!

    It is during these struggles that we (I) have to decide whether to believe the doubts of my finicky and fickle mind or the truths God has planted in my life over the years. It's definitely a conscious decision for me. God doesn't tip toe His way around me, He doesn't come to me on my terms. And you know what ? I like Him better for it. :)