I snapped at her – the small, gracious woman who gave so much of her life to children’s ministry in our congregation – I snapped at her in a way that was most definitely cruel, if instinctual. I was the associate pastor at a very traditional, conservative-leaning congregation. Seminary trained. Third generation. Pastor’s kid. I was supposed to know, to go along, to say the right thing.
We were discussing some lessons we were planning, maybe for VBS. I brought up that one particular passage may be a little complex for younger children to fully understand. She responded that children are used to being told what to do, that sometimes you just need to obey. Kids can be told “God said it, we don’t need to understand.”
Innocuous words, but the tone was unmistakable. I regret the way they came out, but certainly not saying them.
The very background that was supposed to form me into the guy with all the right responses, the one to toe the party line; the background that was supposed to provide me with an endless supply of Sunday School answers, did just the opposite. I can’t stand them.
In the years since this particular awkward conversation I’ve learned to be more diplomatic, more “pastoral,” as they say. I try not to crush the faith and spirit of generous, good-natured servants of God quite so quickly.
But the point remains.
I do need to know why God is asking me to do something.
Maybe it’s a failing. I’m willing to entertain that option. Perhaps I simply lack the faith I’m supposed to have and rely too much on my own intellect. I’ve definitely been guilty of that before.
I’ve found, though, that when people dismiss the question “why” on matters of faith, it tends to limit the experience. Those “trust and obey” traditions feel empty and deficient and entirely unsatisfactory. When the “why” is encouraged, though – or at least tolerated – the expansive nature of God and faith becomes real; the power and potential of the divine in the world seems limitless and worthwhile.
“God said it and that’s good enough for me” is a profound statement of faith… if you’re 100% confident God did, in fact, say it. AND you’re 100% confident you correctly heard what God said. AND you’re 100% confident you perfectly understood what God meant.
We create false certainty, because uncertainty is so terrifying, but there are other choices beyond blind obedience and the scary unknown.
I’m more and more convinced that if we’ve searched for the answer, really struggled and prayed and studied and searched to answer why God might be asking us to do something and we still can’t figure it out, maybe we’re missing the point.
Back in Genesis, God accepted Abel’s offering and rejected that of Cain. Why? It doesn’t say.
Your pastor or your mother or your Sunday School teacher might’ve come up with an answer, but the truth is they don’t really know any more than you do. Scripture doesn’t tell us.
That uncertainty can be scary, if we think the point of Genesis 4 is to teach us what offerings are worthy and which ones aren’t. But maybe that’s not the point? Maybe Genesis 4 is teaching us that our offerings matter far less than whether or not we are our brother’s keeper, that our responsibility to God and to each other is not dependent on our favor or status or situation?
An unanswered ‘why’ might simply mean we have to dig deeper, look closer, take a different perspective, and get creative. Too often we’re limited by the either/or boxes our biology tells us everything should be. Reality is not black and white and there is always another option.
1 Peter instructs us to always be prepared to give an answer for the hope that we have in Jesus Christ. I don’t think “God said it” will be good enough for any “outsider” who asks, so it’s not good enough for me.
I still believe what I eventually got around to saying in that meeting where I reacted so strongly to the dismissal of the “why:” Our kids deserve the limitless possibilities of this magnificent creation in which we live, and that comes only if the “whys” are encouraged.
This is my first post here at The Misfits Theology Club. I hope everything I write and every conversation I have revolves around the question of what God is calling us to do and why. That is the core of faith and life. That is how we become the people God created us to be.