THE TESTING GOD-MUSES FROM MOUNTAINS AND VALLEYS (VOL. 5)
Christians remind me of schoolboys who want to look up the answers to their math problems in the back of the book rather than work them through.
I occasionally teach a preaching class to Buddhist priests in training (I know - that is a whole other story). And I am a kinder gentler professor in these classes as opposed to when I am teaching Church History. Preaching classes in seminary are their own kind of purgatory. Giving a sermon before your peers is a much more vulnerable experience than butchering an essay on the formation of the Trinity in the Fourth Century.
I remember a sermon a fellow student gave in a preaching class when I was in seminary. The theme of the sermon was trying to understand the ways of God in the midst of suffering. His final illustration was the tragic story of how his brother and sister-in-law had died in a car accident. He concluded with the statement “My God does not kill people in car accidents!” Of course, we were all sympathetic and thanked him for sharing. The professor ended our feedback with saying “Thank you for not giving us a simplistic answer.”
Now I don’t believe that God goes around killing people in accidents but saying definitively what God “does or does not do” sounds simplistic to me as well. I do understand why people embrace pat answers to questions of faith, regardless of if they are a believer or sceptic. The ways of God are often a mystery, and the tragedies of life are ever-present. A simple faith that either uncritically believes God is in control and on my side or believes that there is no God and we are on our own are natural defaults to vicissitudes of life.
The story of God asking Abraham to sacrifice Isaac is a troubling story to say the least (Genesis 22). As a person of faith, I find that I can neither write God off as a monster, nor accept that this is a call for blind obedience to the Divine. I find myself, not unlike Soren Kierkegaard in his work Fear and Trembling coming up with at least a half-dozen possible interpretations; a few of which I hope to share in this Sunday’s sermon.
But I am writing this on Tuesday and currently I am not very satisfied with any of them. This is not the first time I have preached on Genesis 18 and so by now you would have thought I would have figured it out, but there is no direct answer in the back of the book concerning the binding of Issac.* Maybe Kierkegaard is right; the absurdity and scandal of the story is that the journey of faith ultimately entails following God for God’s sake regardless of where that might lead. But I must admit I am not so sure. With the disciples I pray “Lord, increase my faith.”
*I am sorry, but for my money, Hebrews 11:17-19 is a swing and miss. However, Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32ff) may be as close as we get to an answer.