Sometimes the Bible just doesn’t make sense.
If you’ve really spent time trying to read it, opening yourself up to the message, even trying to allow it to shape and inform you, you’ve probably experienced the paradox: At once you can be utterly comforted by a word of Scripture (a greater comfort than one can find anywhere else!), and the next you can be left scratching your head, or, even being disturbed by it. The Bible isn’t a tame book. It’s not all happy and, if you try to turn it into just an inspirational, feel-good set of teachings, or if you try to use it to build up what you want it to say, you’re either going to have to put on some serious blinders, or do some seriously creative interpretation.
Its kind of human nature to see things through the lens of what affirms what we already think or believe. We (or maybe I should speak for myself) I, want to be right, to be the hero, to be on the right side, the winning side. But that’s where Scripture is tough. Scripture is tough because, if we approach it honestly, it’s going to challenge and stretch us. It’s going to “mess” with how we see the world and our own lives. It might even require a response or a change in us, which can be very unsettling.
The Bible, the Old and the New Testament, as we’ve come to know them, is an account of the relationship between God and His people. From the story of God’s creation of the first man and woman, through the history of Israel, and culminating in the Son and Word of God becoming man and dwelling among us, it is primarily a story of relationship.
If we think of our own close relationships, those among family members and dear friends, really any that are meaningful or committed, we will recognize that they stretch us. Indeed, it can often be those closest relationships that can be the most frustrating to us! Indeed, one of the hardest lessons to learn in life is that we cannot ever completely know a person. Another person will not always do what we think they should do, and may not respond how we expect them to at any given moment. But it is in the journey of “sticking with” a person, of growing closer and closer that makes us human, and enriches our lives! If this is the case with our human relationships, how much more does this apply to our relationship with God! The difference, of course, being that God does completely know us, since He is our Creator. But our knowledge of Him is always limited to what He reveals to us, He being Creator and we being created, inasmuch as we can bear it.
Of course the Old Testament is filled with those challenging, difficult passages (even whole books – just pick up and read Job for example!) But the life and teachings of Christ Himself are also not tame. Just consider His strong teachings on forgiveness (basically, you have to forgive, period.), or on the dangers of wealth (camel through the eye of a needle), or even the consequences for leading someone, especially someone weaker than you, astray (millstone around the neck!). But as tough as some of these teachings are, the promises, the comfort we are given, and even more, the growth we can experience in entering into the study of Scripture is worth it. For it to be fruitful, though, we have to remember we are entering into a relationship, not just treating the Scripture as something to give us something or to prove our point. We have to be ready to enter into an experience outside of our own, with a God Who is Good, but certainly not tame, and Who will not be manipulated.
One passage in Scripture that gives a good picture of this is the story of Jesus encounter with the Canaanite woman (Matt. 15:21-28). I’ll let you look up and read the Gospel account, but basically Jesus is approached by a woman from the ‘outside’, one who was despised culturally because of where she was from. She begs Jesus to heal her daughter who is suffering greatly. Jesus first responds with silence, and then with the strange statement where He says, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” She then responds: “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” In the end, her faith leads to the healing of her daughter. But the process seems difficult, tense, even disturbing.
It’s easy to look at this encounter and wonder, ‘Why is He silent to her?” “Had He not healed many before and many after?” “Why does He bring up the ugly cultural notion of the Canaanites being considered ‘dogs’?” It almost seems kind of mean. Maybe that’s why this verse has been interpreted many times through the centuries to help explain this interaction that seems so ‘out of character’ for Jesus.
But perhaps it can be most helpful to look at this encounter and simply acknowledge that this is what He said to her, and we do not completely know why He did. But what we do know is that the interaction did not lead her to despair, nor did it bring harm. On the contrary, the encounter brought healing to this woman’s daughter. It is also important to note that the woman herself does not seem offended, but rather, she becomes more persistent, showing not only great faith, but great certainty that Jesus could heal, and that even in His strange rebuke, He was not rejecting her. Her response to a difficult saying was to draw in closer, to pursue with an even more fervent faith. What an example, what a wonder we behold, even if it still remains confusing or strange at moments!
In our own lives, God sometimes provides us with an answer or direction that is troubling, uncomfortable, or stretches us. Sometimes we can even feel that His silence, or even His rebuke is the sound of Him rejecting us. We may want to give up, or wonder why it has to be so difficult at times. Perhaps it is good to remember the example of the Canaanite woman in those moments. It is good to remember her faith and her persistence, her trust that Jesus’ answer to her was ultimately for her and her daughter’s salvation. Life isn’t always going to make sense, faith isn’t always going to make sense, which is probably why sometimes the Bible, which is the account of the relationship of God and man doesn’t make sense. But we have the assurance that God has created us and loves us, even more than we can comprehend. And drawing nearer to Him will always bring forth more abundant life.