I’ve been teaching Sunday school to fourth through sixth graders for seven years now. The first kids I taught are graduating from high school this spring. Perhaps they won’t be thrust out into the world this week as they leave the auditorium, but by fall they will be more or less “on their own.”
It’s a pretty scary world between #MeToo and
I recently read a book that disturbed me more than I expected. It examined non-violence in the Old Testament. Now, at first glance, the Old Testament seems pretty violent with the killing of the first born in Egypt and God’s command to kill every man, woman and child in conquered Canaanite towns. The author argues that God is incrementally revealing his plan for the non-violent kingdom Jesus would preach in terms the Israelites a thousand years earlier could understand, surrounded as they were with the violent, polytheistic cultures of the Ancient Middle East. Before his people could respond to Jesus’s command to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39), they had to understand that Yahweh was the only God; and before they could comprehend that, they needed to recognize him as the most powerful of all gods; and for that to happen, they had to see him in terms their culture understood powerful gods, i.e. military prowess and domination. The author points out how often in the OT God fights his battles in non-traditional ways without violence on the part of his people, like escape through the Red Sea (Exodus 10), a plague in the enemy camp the night before the battle (2 Kings 19:35), or panic inducing the enemy to kill each other (Judges 7:22). But sometimes he does order human violence and punish the lack of it (e.g., 1 Sam 15).
Those of you who know me personally or have been reading this blog for a while, know that I am deeply concerned by the plethora of school shootings and police violence against unarmed citizens. I do not believe that more guns is the answer to our problems. So I am sympathetic to this author’s agenda. I can understand God revealing truth incrementally, but the trustworthy God of the Bible reveals true truth, not falsehood designed to prepare us for truth in the future. What really disturbed me in this book was the final chapters when the author asked, What if God didn’t do those things? What if the OT writers wrote down their own flawed perceptions and justifications for violence and it wasn’t God-ordained at all? What if the OT is wrong? I would not have been surprised or disturbed by these ideas from a secular author; I would have expected them. But this is an author who pointed over and over to Jesus as God made flesh and the only way to the Father, and he is suggesting the Bible is wrong? Not just poetic metaphors or details that might have gotten confused by scribes along the way, but in its teaching on the character of God?
After I decided not to throw my e-book reader across the room, I found myself thinking of “my” kids and all the other Christian young people going off to college or elsewhere in the wide world. If I were 18 and heard someone I respected teach these things—a professor who obviously knew more than I did, or a leader in my church who spoke often of his love for Jesus—what would that do to my faith? If I began to question the authority of the OT accounts of what God did and required of his people then, would I not soon question the New Testament accounts of what Jesus did and what he wanted from me as his follower? Maybe he didn’t really rise from the dead; that was just his disciples’ way of saying God couldn’t let Christ’s marvellous vision of the kingdom die. Maybe God doesn’t really care if I am sexually pure; chastity was appropriate behavior in their culture, but not necessarily in the 21st century.
I’ve found myself feeling discouraged and oppressed the past few days. I am challenged to pray for the class of 2019 as they leave the nest and confront new ideas, some of which may sound very reasonable and even “consistent” with the faith they have grown up in.
“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give [them] the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that [they] may know him better. I pray that the eyes of [their] heart[s] may be enlightened in order that [they] may know the hope to which he has called [them], the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe” (Ephesians 1:17-19a).
Regardless of what new information they may gain, what new ideas they may encounter, the point of knowledge is to know HIM, to know HIS hope, to know HIS glorious inheritance and HIS power—the same power that raised Jesus from the dead! May our grads know him better and better wherever they go in the coming months.
Won’t you join me in praying for our young people?