Another indicator we have moved out of a Christian consensus is the rise of discontent over simple answers. Over the years as pastor I have heard it said by those who face life’s difficulty, “I know if I read my Bible more and attended church regularly, my family would have fared of fare better.” Which bits? What events?
Many readers whose experience did not include a period where every question was met with a sure answer do not necessarily grasp what it means when I title this post, Simple Answers Don’t Work for Some People. In fact, I would venture a guess that some high profile Christians who are often accused of residing somewhere outside of orthodoxy represent those for whom simple answers quit working.
These misunderstood heretics may be involved in a faith saving project, their own. Rather than allow space for the outworking of those moments of theological rehab, others often rush in to indict and dismiss.
I recently listened to an interview with Walter Brueggemann. I once mentioned reading Brueggemann and received an email from a fellow Southern Baptist pastor who wondered what I was doing reading the Old Testament scholar. The question intimated that I should not be reading him but others. I assume I should have been reading those on the approved list.
During the interview, Brueggemann offered his reading of the Hebrew Scriptures. He often found himself in conversation with Jewish scholars. He noted there were competing themes in the Hebrew Scriptures. For instance, both Deuteronomy and Proverbs paint the picture that if a person keeps and does the ways of God all will go well, life will be full and fruitful. Job stands in contrast. Here is a figure that was found blameless, who followed the way of God. Yet, calamity befell him. Would he serve God in the face of difficulty? Or, would he turn at the signs things were not going according to conventional wisdom.
Brueggemann termed these sorts of scenarios as testimony and counter-testimony. Troubling circumstances for those of us raised on the notion there is a simple answer for everything.
Unpacking these disputatious, as Brueggemann, features while maintaining confidence in the authority and inspiration of Scripture require a look beyond the simple. If faith seeks understanding, then it should be prepared to stand up under scrutiny. The fear that somehow a human question is either or both inappropriate or a potential land mine for God, seems to ignore something as simple as the reference to David as a “man after God’s own heart,” who manifests the traits of a philandering, adulterous murderer. Not really so simple.
Trip Hudgins offered another episode of Busted Stuff. He sees the status quo answers akin to maintenance mode. Trip asserts there need to be places for those for whom simple answers do not work so well. I often fear that my comrades in the ministry, especially those from my tribe, would as soon send those away as wrestle with them through their questions. After watching Trip’s installment of Busted Stuff, let me know what you think.