Monday, April 8, 2013

Is God To Be Trusted?

Is God to be trusted? And if so, to what extent? Those are pretty fundamental faith questions, even if you are not particularly religious. To the agnostic or atheist, the question might become more sensible if rephrased, In what do you trust, and to what extent do you trust it?

A likely reason that religion is so easily dismissed by some lies in the puniness of many of our gods. We may proclaim with the psalmist, "The LORD is king! Let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!" But in reality, our God doesn't even rule over our little lives, much less the earth. We may "believe" in God, but it often has little impact on what we do. We don't love neighbors as much as we love self, not unless they are really good neighbors and we really like them a lot. Loving bad neighbors, neighbors in the next school district, or neighbors who view the world differently than we do is another story. We'll be decent to them if it doesn't cost us much, but we won't put their needs on par with ours. We don't trust Jesus enough to go by him on this one.

I've been teaching a weekly study on the book of Genesis this winter/spring. I've taught it before, and I find that some of the most educated Presbyterians struggle to take it seriously. Its stories seem primitive, quaint, and sometimes patently offensive. Our modern conceit sometimes imagines ourselves too sophisticated for such stories, and in our "sophistication," we often fail to notice the texts wrestling mightily with those fundamental questions. Is God to be trusted, and if so, to what extent?

Today's reading from Daniel begins setting up a story about someone who trusts God to a ridiculous degree. Surely it is just a story, a tale. Our gospel reading is setting up a very similar story. Jesus trusts God to a ridiculous degree, so much that he will face a brutal execution that he could have avoided. Surly it is just a story, a tale. And even those of us who insist it is true often make the story about something other than, Is God to be trusted? We make it a formula. Believe this happened and get a prize.

Jesus calls those who would be his disciples to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow him. In other words, he says to trust that the path he walks is the right one. That's asking a lot, as Jesus well knows. We peddlers of religion know it, too, and so we try to make faith easier, simpler. We're frightened to raise big questions of trust. What if people just want a little religion? We might scare them off.

Sometimes it seems to me that those primitive, ancient folks who wrote the Scriptures had a lot more religious sophistication than we do. At least they understood what the real, fundamental religious questions are.

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