The relationship between the Hebrews and God quickly became strained. Yes, the Hebrews were delivered from slavery, but on the other side of deliverance, life was not good. No water and no food, not to mention wilderness living in general was not fun.
Nobody wants a crappy life.
If this was the best God could provide, maybe it was time to find another god.
God and the Hebrews’ relationship got off to a bad start, which reminds me of my great aunt's marriage.
Aunt Clem married Henry in 1928. Enter wedding bell blues. Aunt Clem was a teenage girl, living in a rural area before women's rights, but she was not a put up with a bad husband sort of gal. When Aunt Clem discovered, shortly after saying “I do,” that Mr. Groom was a bootlegger she turned her husband into the authorities. She ratted on him.
In the Virginia mountains where this all occurred it was not a sin to make liquor, but it was a sin to make bad liquor. According to Aunt Clem, though, bootlegging was an unpardonable sin.
Henry decided he had had enough of the marriage too. The bootlegger husband, in horse and buggy, took Aunt Clem back to her daddy. In addition to dropping her off, he handed over $10,000, perhaps to make sure her papa would take her back.
$10,000 in 1928 had the same buying power as $124,826.01 in 2010.
Sometimes you do what you have to do when a bad start is involved.
Sitting in pews are people who know about bad starts. 2011 may be off to a bad start for them. Recent college graduates can’t find jobs. Or parishioners who have a new job, or a relationship to a new boss, may be off to a less than stellar beginning. Newlyweds may be seriously questioning their life mate decision or may be having difficulty being accepted by their spouse’s family. Treatments for diseases or new medications may be causing side effects that disturb life routines and quality of life.
And don't forget to ask congregants how their relationship started with God. Many Christians began their relationship with God with an unhealthy sense of sinfulness, shame, and fear.
Romans 5:1-11, like many passages in the Bible, is riddled with irony and contradictions. Perhaps, some conservative Christians may come to the conclusion that this is the literal word of God; and as such, this passage is faultless, not to be questioned. However, I prefer to dig deeper into this text and see if there are other possible conclusions.
“But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Anyone familiar with the crucifixion of Christ is aware of the beating, torture, degradation, being speared by a roman soldier, a crown made of thorns placed on his head, and finally murdered by being nailed to a cross of wood until he bled to death. Now why was this necessary for an almighty, all loving God to prove his love for us? Perhaps because, “Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his (Jesus Christ’s) blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God.” (Romans 5:9) Wrath usually entails something very unpleasant, such as the Great Flood that kills all but a handful of humans (and faultless animals); fire and brimstone raining down on cities; and the invasion and violent takeover of someone else’s land, etc. So, if this is to be believed, it took what amounts to a lynching of a peaceful man, for God to cease genocide, burning people alive, and stopping his “chosen” people from invading land that belong to others and killing them. That is highly illogical, and to be rejected by the reasonable mind. But Paul in his letter to the Romans can justify this nonsense, “For while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son.” (Romans 5:10)
Jesus Christ, a man of peace, was murdered by a terrible act of violence, in order to stop a violent God from committing more terrible acts of violence. The concept of love is to nurture, not destroy. So, I say to those who perished in the great flood, to the people of Canaan, and to those inhabiting the cities of the plains, (assuming these fantastical tales are true), God killed all but a handful of humans in the great flood, burned alive you people of Sodom, Gomorrah, and the other inhabitants of the surrounding cities, and allowed murder so the Israelites could take land - I say to you, God allowed all of this to happen to you, well, because he loves you. But take heart, God allowed another heinous act of violence to occur in order to control his destructive behavior.
Violence never ends violence.
Does suffering produce endurance?
Does endurance really lead to character, and character, hope?
And hope … it “does not disappoint us?”
Are you kidding me?
It can be hard enough trying to bring “good news” out of this passage on a good day. Try doing it on a bad one. And try bringing that good news to a group of hurting people, who, thank Christ, have no use for patriarchal theology.
If suffering produces endurance, why does hope so often—for many of us— disappoint? Paul seems pretty sure of himself in this one. Unfortunately for me, his supreme confidence has transcended the generations, often landing in places like the coffee shop where I sometimes write. Not long ago, there I was—minding my business—writing for a living, when a man in his late 20’s strolled in and barked his presence.
My Bible rested on the edge of my table as I worked. This man, who appeared to be pushing the limit on the anabolic steroid meter, immediately spotted me and barreled over to my table.
“Hey, brother!” he bellowed, “Gettin’ into the Word today?”
Oh, God, no. Not today, please. In fact, not ever.
He was, as you have probably guessed, one of the more enthusiastic members of what I call the “Bodybuilders for Christ.” Armpit sweat soaked his shirt. And he was “anxing my quiet.”
See, here’s the thing: I’m impatient. I’m an ex-cop, the kind of guy you don’t want to see in your rearview mirror. I have no compassion—at least on my writing days at the coffee shop. It’s my time. When someone encroaches and imposes their Christian will, I want to produce suffering. I suppose this confession indicates a decided lack of character. Sorry.
I’ll spare you the confrontation’s outcome. I just get the impression that the writer of this passage and his loyal contemporary constituents may be out of touch. On the other hand, these words were written during far harsher times than my own. If Paul was in fact on to something, he seems to have left out the “how to” section of the manual. Whazup with that?
I don’t imagine that we preachers are actually expected to write the manual—thankfully. Perhaps, though, as you reflect on my obvious shortcomings, you will be so bold in time as to tell your people that you simply don’t know the answer to suffering, you are not the Christ, and, absent any anabolic assistance, your endurance is limited.
Meanwhile, I’ll sit and write, and have a java in your honor. May the warm winds of heaven blow softly (and quietly) to your doorstep.