Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Why does God make it hard for us to understand?

I'm borrowing a lot of this material from ISCA BBS. Sometimes there's so much postchristian mutual back-patting it spills over from good-humored to nauseatingly smug, but sometimes there's gold.

Quoth one user, "If the Bible is God's word, would He want to make it easy to understand?" Riposteth another, "'Easy' has never been something that Christians have recognized as a characteristic of God, or as a particularly important aspect of anything related to the Divine." I might remind the reader that Christ's yoke is light, but I would be missing the point.

Yeah, some things are clearly stated and require only the simplest act of interpretation to understand, without relying heavily on textual and cultural context. A lot of other stuff...not so much. I'm not going to pretend to speak authoritatively, but I read something some time ago that helps me to deal with the more troubling passages, or will help me deal with them when I finally turn my attention to them, which is better than avoiding them entirely (which, in turn, should be better than diving in ungirded and losing faith).

Consider the passage in II Kings where Elisha, taunted by children, summons bears to maul the children, or the end of the 137th Psalm, that seems to exult the slaughter of an enemy's children. Even acknowledging that God is far above and beyond us, how can we reconcile these instances with what we do seem to know about God?

I'm not sure we can. I certainly can't blame the people who don't want to. Maybe, for now at least, though, we don't need to grasp the passages themselves. Maybe what we need to do is take them as object lessons of discipline and faith. Don't worry about what the passages are directly saying, but think about what it means to struggle with and continue to trust a God you know to be good who nevertheless preserves such disturbing events for us to ponder in our Scripture. Maybe it's like the fixed Perelandran island, upon which sleeping is forbidden strictly to allow for an act of willful obedience, untempered by any need for self-preservation. There may or may not be a specific lesson we should take from texts like these (and I'm refraining from committing for the sake of my argument), but they're canon for a reason, and if we cannot bring ourselves to relish in the stories of infanticide (perish the thought), we can at least meditate on what makes it necessary to practice, to test, our faith and obedience in such uncomfortable ways.

So, if God does want to communicate something to us lowly creatures, why does He sometimes make it hard for us to recognize and accept the lesson? It may be because sometimes "simple" communication is inadequate. A poem isn't just a conveyance of purely academic, cerebral ideas; it's supposed to convey a feeling, to be an event on paper or in the ears that leaves the reader as changed as any event that takes place off the paper, in the space between people. If scientists want to communicate something to technically disinclined people, and it would require calculus to do so, then why don't the scientists just make calculus easy? Calculus, like poetry, just doesn't work that way. We're incapable of removing the struggle of learning, of evading the need to invest ourselves in the effort to grok something, and in His infinite Wisdom, God has seen fit to (mostly) work within this limitation of ours, even for things as urgent as our faith.

Maybe it's not urgent, which is the point; instead, it's important, and we will appreciate it better if we have to extend some effort. Sure, God could just pry open our minds and dump in sufficient understanding, but obviously it's not His usual M.O., so insisting on holding the position that all this stuff should be easy for us to digest is not going to be particularly fruitful.

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