Last year, I heard a man talk who had done conflict resolution with hundreds of different groups. He had worked with Government officials for foreign nations, multi-million dollar corporations, and some churches. And he said that, by far, the hardest group to help unify in a conflict, was churches.
But what I thought was interesting is why. He said that churches tend to spiritualize their disagreements; they take a position, and then assume that God is on their side.
George Bernard Scott once said, “God made man in his own image, and ever since we’ve been trying to return the favor.” Here’s what I think, in part, that means.
I do a lot of funerals, and one of the things that I’ve noticed is how the family tends to talk about the deceased. I’ve had some pretty crazy request for things to be done at funerals. Ask me sometime, I’ve got some stories…But let me tell you what is never said when someone requests a Disco Ball wake. Nobody ever says, I just want this.
They don’t say, it would somehow be comforting to me to have a piñata at this thing. Instead, they say, [The Deceased] would’ve wanted it this way.
Now, I’ve been to and preached funerals of people I was dearly close to. And so I can somewhat empathize the emotional landmines that go along with planning out how to say goodbye to someone you love. But here’s my point:
We are really good at placing our opinions and ideas on other people, even God…maybe especially God.
I’ve written before on what frustrates me about the “This is God” billboards. But I don’t think there is a better illustration than this picture. Because once we start trying to put clichés and ideas from popular culture in God’s mouth, this is the logical conclusion. God doesn’t just want you to remember that it wasn’t the 10 suggestions; He also wants you to eat at Moe’s.
Last night, I read Eden a goodnight Bible story, like I do every night. And once again I discovered huge chunks of her Zondervan Kids Bible are missing. Eden’s Canon within the Canon is pretty small. Sure Jesus heals the lepers, but good luck finding the sinful woman anointing his feet. When Elijah has a showdown with the prophets of Ba’al they are just disappointed afterward. And good luck finding any mention of Dinah, or Judah, or Bathsheba for that matter.
Now, just to clarify, I’m glad most of those stories aren’t in there yet. I’d probably skip reading them to Eden if they were (And I can’t imagine how the Children’s artist would paint Genesis 38). But when was the last time we’ve heard a sermon on a story like this?
Here’s my point, there are stories in the Bible that Barbara Brown Taylor calls “Texts of Terror.” And they make us swallow hard and re-think what we thought we knew about God. To be honest, I’d rather someone else preach a sermon on these texts; I don’t get most of them.
But what if getting them isn’t the point?
Tim Keller, in his book “The Reason for God,” points out that if God really is transcendent, or beyond us, than there are bound to be things about his activity that we don’t understand, or that our culture finds offensive. He gives an example of an Indonesian tribe who heard the story of Jesus, and decided the hero was Judas.
In fact, when the missionaries explained that Jesus was whom the story centered around. That he was actually the hero of the story, they were offended. They didn’t like the idea that forgiveness was held up as an ideal.
Keller’s point is that God is incapable of being reduced to a single culture or worldview. And when you find yourself getting offended by a text, maybe the best option isn’t to write it off, but to revisit it. To allow God to wrestle with us through it.
Maybe the Scriptures aren’t calling us to emulate these stories, i.e purchase a woman’s hand in marriage with 300 Philistine foreskins. But to allow the story to humble us. They help us to resist the urge to create gods in our image. Or assume that God has the same agenda as we do at the upcoming church brawl. It might help us remember that If God, did in fact have a billboard, he probably wouldn’t tell us that He missed you at church Sunday.
But he actually might tell you to eat at Moe’s.