The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
July 15, 2018
An old Yiddish story tells of a little boy visiting his grandfather and playing hide-and-go-seek with the neighborhood kids. When it was his turn to be “it”, he hid himself; but the other kids got distracted, forgot all about their search for him, and wandered off on their own without him.
Once he realized what had happened, he burst into tears, ran into grandpa’s house, jumped into his lap, and sobbed out his story about how he’d gone hiding but the others had quit looking for him. Grandpa drew the boy close and hugged him in silence for a long while. Finally, he said, “And now you know what God feels like.”
God plays games with us. But, while fun, they are not frivolous. God plays serious games.
God hides Himself that we might find Him and that the finding of Him might be all the bigger a gift for the challenge in finding Him.
God wrestles with us, never thinking to exert the strength to defeat us but playing along with our illusion of being able to fight Him to a draw, that we might keep tangling with Him and in the entanglement of the wrestling match find ourselves embracing our Opponent as a friend.
God welcomes our arguing with Him and taking Him to task for supposed failures, that in trying to set Him straight we get set straight ourselves and in experiencing that grace come to appreciate Him as never before and to desire to develop a deeper relationship with Him.
Earlier in this chapter of Genesis, God had given Abraham the task of teaching his household “the way of the Lord” and “doing righteousness and justice”.
When Abraham learns God’s intentions for the evil people of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham presumes to teach God righteousness and to argue God out of what Abraham believes would be a big mistake.
What is even more striking than Abraham’s thinking that he can, by clever logic, teach God a thing or two is that God takes no offence. God doesn’t get defensive or put Abraham in his place. God, I suspect, is tickled that Abraham feels comfortable enough to be frank and forthright – and combative. In this game of love, God lets Abraham believe he’s convincing his Lord to do something He wouldn’t have otherwise done.
In arguing with God here, Abraham is but the first in a long line of people in the Bible – such as Moses, David and Habakkuk – who, in their praying, would have it out with God. Only Abraham was a lot more polite and respectful than some of them were at times. People who loved and served God would question God’s character and wisdom, and with brutal honesty rage against Him. Yet, God would always accept their angry accusations, and graciously take them as they were in all their doubt and disappointment with their Lord. God would refrain from asking them to moderate their anger, mince their words or minimize their raw emotions, and would welcome their giving Him what for. Through their arguing and raging, God would continue to be there for them and to care for them; and would remain faithfully, if mysteriously, involved in their lives.
God understands relationships better than we. Though some of us avoid anger and arguments, God sees that the sharing of unpleasant feelings and profound disagreement can be healthy and helpful for a relationship. Thus, God is glad and grateful when we dish it out and/or fire back at Him. Our confronting Him and telling Him He’s wrong can bring us closer in the end.
So, when we complain about God’s not doing His job and pick a bone with God, God seems to be delighted. For it suggests we believe enough in His love that we don’t feel the need to pretend and come to Him just as we are with all our mixed feelings and uncertainties.
On such occasions, God responds no less wonderfully than when there is no conflict between Him and us. He still does right by us. Doing us right sometimes means He does what we’ve told Him, sometimes means not doing it but explaining why not, and sometimes means not doing it and making no explanation at all.
God does not explain Himself for one of two reasons. First, we – like children who can’t imagine why their parents would restrict their intake of sugar – have not yet developed the capacity to understand the explanation. Second, it is often better for us not to know God’s purpose or plan so that there is nothing to trust in but His character, heart and wisdom.
So God will keep us in the dark to keep us in the faith. He will keep His goals and means mysterious to keep us engaged with Him in prayer – in the hope that, by the honest and sometimes angry give-and-take of a quarrel, we might know – not what exactly is going on – but what kind of Person we are dealing with. That personal knowledge of God gives us the courage of faith to take the risk of allowing Him to be in control and to change us in our priorities – and thus in what we insist upon and in what we apply our energies to first and foremost. We thereby become more devoted to pleasing and honoring this good and great God we cannot fully figure out.
A church in a poor South African township had suffered one tragedy after another, from a tornado that had destroyed fifty of their homes and killed five of their members to the murder of a 14-year-old church attender at the hands of a street gang. That Sunday in worship, the pastor led the people in prayer and brought before God his protest over the unfairness of it all. The congregants groaned and moaned as they shared his lament.
Suddenly, they all grew silent, and the quiet sat upon them heavy and intense. Then a few people started softly singing a song of praise. As the Spirit moved, others joined them until everyone was swaying and singing louder and louder their trusting appreciation of the God who had taken human flesh and had Himself plunged into the darkest depths of human pain. And in their anguish their struggling minds found some rest; and their broken hearts, some joy.
Sometimes we have to shake a fist at God, and the Lord is happy to hear us out. And sometimes we have to declare a truce, and the Lord is happy to bring our souls peace by assuring us that He always has been and always will be the loving God who makes our troubles and struggles His own.
Let us then give thanks for a God who is with us in all the ups and downs of life, and who desires to talk with us, whatever the occasion and whatever our attitude. Let us pray.