I don't remember very many times growing up when mom or dad broke a promise to me. I guess it probably happened some, but I don't remember it. I try to do the same for my girls. If I tell them something, I try to follow through, but there are times when no matter how bad you want to, something happens and you just can't.
My youngest, Hannah, is forever after me to come to school and eat lunch with her. It's almost a daily thing, actually. She has a hard time with the whole, "Daddy is home but still has to work" thing.
"Can you come eat lunch with me today?"
"No baby, I can't today. I have too much to get done. I will try to come Friday."
You see, on Fridays she gets to sit in the "Hard Work Cafe" so it's special if I come then. As I look back over the school year, which by the way is almost over, there has only been one Friday that I have actually gone and eaten with her. She's never said anything about broken promises, which is surprising for her given that she's not just a little high maintenance, but I know she must think about it.
But you see, I have a loophole that I use just pretty regular, not just with Hannah, but with anybody that wants a commitment from me. Instead of saying "I will..." I say, "I'll try...." Did you see what I just did? That cuts me loose from any obligation should something happen and I not be able to follow through. Or does it? After all, I haven't promised to do this or that, I've said "I'll try."
What happens though, when those broken promises come from a higher power? I don't know, maybe the ultimate parent? What do we do when God has promised something and doesn't come through? Or, have we ever even thought about that? I mean, yeah, there's the rainbow thing. God says, I'll put this rainbow in the sky to remind myself that I will never destroy the earth by water again, and that's cool. But the scientist in me knows that rainbows are just light refracting off of water particles in the sky. They are still beautiful, by the way, and I still think about that promise every time I see one. Even with the destruction of the gulf coast region with Katrina, and the way some could say their world had been destroyed by flooding, that's not the promise I'm talking about. There's another.
This one deals with what we've been talking about for a few weeks, we even call it "The Promised Land." Kind of catchy, huh? Kind of rolls off of your tongue. "The Promised Land..." God said, and I'm paraphrasing, "I'm going to give you this land, and it will be yours. Don't worry about the folks living there already, you'll be able to run them out of town, no problem. Then all of this land will be yours and your children's, and your children's childrens'. It's going to be great!"
But then this morning, again with the something I've never seen before. I know that I've read Joshua before. I've preached out of Joshua, but evidently I haven't read it very close. Here goes...the Israelites couldn't get rid of everybody. Now, you may be saying, "Well, that's not that big of a deal. So a few folks stayed? So what?" Well, here's the so what, God promised!
God told them to drive ALL of the inhabitants out of the land and possess it, and that God would be with them. But this morning, I found three, not one, but three places where they could not drive out the inhabitants of the land. I honestly don't know what to do with that yet.
As the Promised Land, well, the Almost Promised Land, is being divided among the tribes of Israel, the tribe of Ephraim is given Gezer, but could not drive the Canaanites out of the land (Joshua 16:10). The Tribe of Manasseh is give Beth Shan (I've been there, beautiful city by the way), Ibleam, Endor, Taanach, and Megiddo (also been there, gorgeous), but they could not drive the Caananites from those places. And the one that really blew me away, the holiest sight in Christianity, the Israelites couldn't drive the Jebusites out of Jerusalem. They had to share the Holy City!
Now, I am well aware that this might raise the hackles of my more conservative brothers and sisters and I mean no disrespect, but this just blew me away this morning. God promised to give them this land, and then didn't. Maybe I've missed the "why" somewhere along the way and will have to go back and look. Maybe it will all be explained in tomorrow's scriptures, but again, I'll live with the tension for today.
I have learned something through all of this, and that is this...folks who have nice, clean answers for all of the tough God questions scare me to death. There has not been, is not, nor will there ever be any cleancut answers to some of these questions. Folks outside the church are asking the questions, and for many of them that's why they're still outside the church. But lots of times, folks inside the church are encouraged not to. "Oh, honey, you just have to believe." I'm sorry, but do I smell a cop out? It almost angers me when I hear someone in the church tell someone else that, as if we're less Christian because we have questions.
Now, I'm not trying to plant any seeds of doubt in anyone's mind, please understand that. All I'm doing, is allowing you to peek into some of the things I struggle with, and as a theologian by training, I can't not struggle with them. Things were simpler when I didn't have to think. But that's exactly what I'm encouraging you to do.
So, I'm going to do something with this one that I haven't done yet. Instead of just putting the words out there and walking away from the computer, I'm going to invite you into a conversation (Well, ok, I do have to walk away because I have to meet my plumber today, but I'll be back). Where are your doubts? How have you dealt with them? And what did other folks tell you to do about it?
And that reminds me, I have a lunch date with a certain 9 year old this Friday.