Last night I taught Jael to a class of 4th-6th graders. Jael, the woman who stole Barak’s glory. Jael, the woman who defeated Sisera, the cruel Canaanite army commander. Jael, who let Sisera into her tent, offered him drink and shelter and safety, let him drift off to sleep, and then hammered a tent peg through his head into the ground. That Jael.
Suffice it to say that the kids reacted suitably. There was shock. Mouths dropped. One kid wanted to know if people were the same as animals and twitched when they died (I do live in Louisiana y’all). They gave a far more vocal reaction than last week when we discussed the Israelites finally receiving the Promised Land after waitings centuries for God’s promise to Abraham to be fulfilled, a class I had been pretty excited about. Apparently shocking murders are more exciting to 10 year olds. Who knew?
And this is just the beginning. The book of Judges is full of questionable individuals and even more questionable decisions. There’s a lot of what looks like moral gray. Bad people make terrible choices. Sometimes good people make bad choices. Sometimes bad choices help gain the victory, but not in a way we’re comfortable with.
And sometimes these things are hard to explain. Sometime it’s easier to shy away from the complicated parts of Scripture because we just don’t get it. And we don’t want to teach it, because we don’t want questions. If we never teach that Rahab lied and by doing so, helped ensure the safety of the spies and an Israelite victory, then we don’t have to attempt to explain her lie away. If we don’t teach the battles the Jewish nation engaged in, then we don’t have to reconcile the deaths of entire cities to the image of God we have.
There are a lot of difficult things in Scripture. Difficult to understand. Difficult to explain. Difficult to read. The pages of our Bibles contain violence and prejudice. Jealous and envy. Sex. Idolatry. Murder. Rape. If it were a movie, nobody would let their kids watch it.
But we have it for a reason. I’m not advocating using Song of Solomon for 3rd grade memory verses or reading about the night of the Passover to little ones before they drift off to sleep at night. But we have to quit being so scared of what we’re not comfortable with.
Here’s the truth: God is kind of loving and merciful and forgiving, but He also always has and will demand a certain level of respect and obedience from those who wish to follow Him. He can be quick to hand out punishment when He sees fit. That is His right. He is God, after all. There are also a lot of people who make bad decisions. The fact that we have record of those decisions is not equivalent to an endorsement of those decisions. Sometimes those decisions even lead to good results, but that doesn’t mean that God won’t judge judge those who do wrong.
Here’s another truth: We have 66 divinely inspired books and we have to quit being so afraid of some of them. Not just teaching them, but studying them. We can’t avoid asking questions because we’re afraid of the answer, and all the while allowing seeds of doubt and distrust to be planted in our minds.
Raise your hands if you’ve been there. My hand is up (figuratively, as they’re both being put to use typing at the moment). I was the epitome of the annoying “why” kid. As an adult, not much has changed. There has been more than one occasion my long-suffering husband has launched into what he deemed to be a pointless explanation of some offhand statement because he knew that I wouldn’t be satisfied without one. It’s a delightful trait.
But I wasn’t always like that when it came to reading my Bible. There were times I read passages that I just couldn’t comprehend – mentally, emotionally, metaphysically – and so I quickly pushed through in hopes that my cognitive dissonance would soon pass and I would forget what I had read. I didn’t want to admit there were things I didn’t understand, or (even worse) things I might have even felt I understood but didn’t agree with. I certainly didn’t want others to know those thoughts were there.
I gotta tell you, that never made my faith stronger. While the foundation of my faith was strong, there were all kinds of walls that were ready to topple with the slightest push. Ignoring questions and concerns won’t make you forget they are there and you can never trick yourself into believing you don’t have them.
So ask the tough questions. I eventually did. I can’t begin to explain the change that came with knowing that my obstinately questioning mind was free examine every confusing passage I came across. An unwillingness to investigate things you don’t understand for fear of what you might find doesn’t make your faith stronger, it just gives voice to doubt.
God can stand up to any questions you have. His goodness is evident and the ultimate reason behind everything. I believe that. Really believe it, as opposed to hopefully. I don’t understand everything. Maybe one day, but probably not. But I trust Him. We don’t have the history of His people, good and bad, written down because He plans to cower before us on judgment day, scared of what we might ask Him. He gave it to us freely and confidently.
So study. If you come across something you can’t understand, don’t feel ashamed. Keep studying. Ask somebody. Teach. Teach others not to be afraid.
“Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”