Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Call Me Mara...

Ok, I've noticed something lately. God gets blamed for a lot of stuff. I know, I know...God is all powerful, all knowing, beyond space and time, and spoke the world into being in 6 God days...therefore everything that happens, good or bad, must be God's fault. Or at the very least, must be somebody's fault, so why not God's?

I was reading this morning from the Life Journal texts for today (by the way, if you're not doing life with me and want to know how, let me know and I'll hook you up.) The Old Testament reading was from Ruth, you know, the story of Naomi, her run of really bad luck, and her daughters-in-law.

Long story short, Naomi had a husband and two sons. Both sons married foreign women. Her husband and then both sons passed away, leaving her to care for herself and her two daughters-in-law. She tried to send them back home because she knew how hard it was going to be for them all to survive. One went, one wouldn't. Naomi and Ruth then went back to Bethlehem and when they came into town, folks started saying, "Hey look, isn't that Naomi?"

Here is her answer: "Don't call me Naomi," she told them, "Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me."

Naomi, I don't think God intended you that much pain. But really, who else could it have been? I'm going to jump in God's corner for a second (not that God needs me to) and say it wasn't God's fault. I don't think God put all of that on Naomi, or on us, for that matter.

"But Jamie," you might be saying, "the bible says that God will not put more on you than you can handle." I would say, "I don't think it says that." I may be wrong, but I haven't found it yet. What I have found is in 1 Corinthians 10:13, where Paul says, "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man (or woman). God is faithful and (he) will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation (he) will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it."

Temptation is much different than suffering. So, yeah, I totally agree that we won't be tempted beyond what we can handle without being presented with a way out and then the choice is ours, but I don't believe, can't believe, and won't believe that God inflicts suffering.

Naomi had a hard time, no doubt, and just like us she was looking for someone to blame. I don't have room here to get into the issues of theodicy (justice of God) that this brings up, but they are there. Stuff happens, and when that stuff is bad, maybe it makes us feel better to know someone, human or divine, is responsible.

Paul is a perfect example of someone having more put on him than he could handle. He also likes to talk about it. "But whatever anyone else dares to boast of-I am speaking as a fool-I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I'm a better one - I am talking like a madman - with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from the Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall and I'm not indignant? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness." (2 Corinthians 11)

And that is why no one asked Paul to write the "So you want to be a Christian..." brochure.

The truth is, we live in a fallen world. Evil is very much a part of that. We as humans decided thousands of years ago that we knew what was best for us and decided to live apart from God's original design. So God said, "Ok, I love you enough to let you do that." We are spiritual beings in finite bodies, and death will at some point come to everybody. It sucks, but that's just the way it is. The temptation is to take the good stuff, give God a quick pat on the back, and go on. Then when we are pinned against the wall, cry out, "Why are you doing this to me, God?" I've done it, so have you.

So, Mara, I'm going to keep calling you Naomi. I know you had a rough time. I know you think God is to blame, but just let me say this, when your heart was breaking God's heart was breaking too, and God walked with you through all three funeral processions, and all the way back to Bethelehem. God did that for you, and God does that for us.


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