Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.
C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
Sunday I sat through what started off as a promising sermon.
The text was from Jeremiah when he was sent by God to the potter’s house for an object lesson.
This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.
Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.
Jeremiah 18:1-6 NIV
This story hits home in so many ways.
I identify with Jeremiah’s tears shed over the message he was called to deliver (Israel was about to experience harsh judgement) and the image of God as Potter and me as clay in His hands, to be molded and shaped according to HIS purpose and plan regardless of how I might like to be molded and shaped.
But the sermon took a turn that hurt my heart when the preacher began suffusing the message with personal experience. It is absolutely his prerogative to relay his own life story but it is another thing to draw general conclusions from HIS experience as being relevant and instructive for EVERYONE.
His wife had been diagnosed many years ago with a brain tumor. She underwent extensive surgery and therapy but ultimately survived and is still living today.
I am thankful their story has a hopeful and happy ending (so far). The problem came when the pastor said, “I never asked, ‘why?'” and then proceeded to imply that asking, “why?” was wrong and the mark of an immature faith.
I’m delighted his faith was strong enough (or naive enough) that his heart never argued with his theological framework.
That is not my experience.
And it is not the experience of millions of faithful Christ followers who have been asked to bear up under burdens that do NOT have a hopeful or happy conclusion this side of heaven.
It took every bit of self-control I had to not stand up and shout, “REALLY? What about Job? What about Paul? What about David? What about JESUS?”
The Psalms are filled with questions.
Jesus Himself asked, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” from the cross.
God invites us to ask.
“Come now, and let us reason together,” saith the Lord
Isaiah 1:18 KJV
My faith is stronger because I have taken my questions to the only One Who can answer them.
He doesn’t always answer.
But He always listens.
He doesn’t give me reasons.
But He gives me Himself.
I am the clay-I know that. But unlike dumb physical material that can be molded and shaped without feeling or self-awareness, I am a human being, created in the image of God Himself and endowed with feelings, knowledge and a heart that longs to understand.
So I must choose–as an act of free will–to offer myself as a living sacrifice, to remain supple and malleable under the Hand of my Creator as He makes me into what He intends me to be.
But submission does not preclude my questions.
I would argue that true submission insists on acknowledging and asking the questions and choosing to yield anyway.
Anything less is not submission, it is simply fatalism.
I serve a God Who is my Father, not my dictator. I serve and worship a Savior Who is gentle, humble and kind, not harsh, proud and uncaring.
It is no sin to ask, “Why?”
In fact, it is exactly the kind of exchange relationship insists upon.
You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?
C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed