Sunday, January 17, 2016

18 Questions I Don't Have Answers For (Yet!)

            As I begin reading through the Bible for the 5th or 6th time in my life, I am once again struck with certain questions that I don’t have adequate answers for.  I guess you could say these are the things that make me go “Huh?”  Things such as . . .

            1.  In Numbers 22, we read about how Balaam was riding his donkey, trying to make it go down a certain path.  The donkey had seen an angel standing in the road and wouldn’t go forward.  So Balaam beat the donkey.  Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth and the donkey said, “What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?”
            The thing that gets me here is that instead of acting shocked, Balaam answers the donkey.  As though nothing was out of the ordinary.  His donkey just questioned him . . . and he gets into a conversation with it. 
            “You have made a fool out of me!” 
            If, one fine day, my fish all of a sudden popped their little heads above the water level and said, “Hey, how about cleaning this toilet bowl of a tank for us?  It’s not fair to leave us like this.  We can’t do it ourselves.  Look, we just have fins,”  I know that I would be surprised.  I would stand there in shock for awhile.  And when I could finally talk, I would say, “How . . . how . . . HOW are you able to TALK?  What the HECK is going on around here!?!”  And then I would make an appointment with a psychiatrist.
            But Balaam eased right into a conversation with the beast he was riding.  And I wonder, Why would he not be surprised?  Did animals commonly talk in those days?  Did Balaam have a mental condition that made a talking animal seem completely normal to him?
            And were those thoughts from the donkey itself or did the Lord put them there?  If they were the donkey’s thoughts, do animals have rational thought processes like people might, enough to know the difference between “fair and unfair” treatment?  And are there times when an angel of the Lord is standing in our way but we fail to sense it and try to push ahead anyway?”  Interesting situation!

            2.  Deut. 23:12-14 “Designate a place outside of camp where you can go to relieve yourself . . . For the Lord your God moves about in your camp to protect you and deliver your enemies to you.  Your camp must be holy, so that he will not see among you anything indecent and turn away from you.” 
            What does it mean that the Lord moves about in their camp?  Does He come down invisibly and walk among them?  Why does He need to do this if He can see and rule from heaven?  Does He do this today?  Does He come down and walk invisibly among us, check out what is going on in our houses?  And if so, what kinds of things in our country and in our homes might make Him turn away?  (I really need to do better keeping my house clean.  May Invisible Jesus never look in our toilet or bathtub or at the piles of laundry and dishes!  Ugh!)

            3.   Along similar lines, why did the Lord need to come down to see how bad Sodom and Gomorrah had gotten?  “Then the Lord said, ‘The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me,  If not, I will know.’”  (Genesis 18:20-21)  Wouldn’t He be able to see this from heaven?  How could there be any “then I will know” about it?  Doesn’t He always know?  Of course, it’s possible that He is saying this for Abraham’s sake, but it still makes me wonder why He would need to come down to see. 

            4.  And it also makes me wonder if God waits for a certain amount of cries to reach heaven before He gets involved, in general.  There are many other times in the Old Testament where we read that God decided to intervene because of the cries that reached Him.  Would He not have done anything had no one cried out?  Does He wait till there are a lot of cries before He gets involved, somehow placing the responsibility in the hands of the people to want and to ask for change?

            5.  Why make a promise to Abraham about giving him a son and then make him wait 25 years before fulfilling it?  Why let him get his hopes up and then let that hope dry up over 25 years?  That just seems extreme.  Anyone would lose hope at that point.  I know that there are valuable lessons to be learned in the waiting (believe me, I know!), but 25 years!  Waiting till they are almost as good as dead before letting them experience that blessing!  Why not wait to tell them about the promise till it gets a lot closer to the date of fulfillment?  Why so early? 
            It’s kind of mind-boggling.  And humbling!  Because it reminds me again of how He is God and we are not, and He doesn’t have to do things the way we think He should.  And He doesn’t have to make sense to us.  It’s part of being God!

            6.  How did blessings and curses work?  Was there really power in the people’s words to make things happen? 
            In a burst of anger, Noah cursed his son, Ham, into slavery.  And Ham is the ancestor of those who settled in Africa.  Did Noah’s curse make African slavery happen?
            Esau gave up his birthright to Jacob in Gen 25 and then it came to fulfillment in Gen 27 when Jacob’s mother helped him steal Esau’s blessing.  If Esau had not agreed to trade his birthright for a bowl of soup, would Rebekah have not encouraged Jacob to steal the blessing?  Did Esau’s words make it happen?  And why is it that there was only one good blessing to give, for the firstborn? 
            “Esau said, ‘Haven’t you reserved any blessing for me?’ 
            Isaac answered Esau, ‘I have made him lord over you and have made all his relatives his servants, and I have sustained him with grain and new wine.  So what can I possibly do for you, my son?’ 
            Esau said to his father, ‘Do you have only one blessing, my father?  Bless me too, my father!’  Then Esau wept aloud.”  (Gen. 27:36-38)
            Like Esau, I ask, “Is there only one blessing to give?”  Isn’t there more than enough good things out there to bless people with?  Why give it all to one son?  Did Isaac really make all those things happen for Jacob just because he said it?  (Blessings were irrevocable in those days.)  And why would you even make one son’s descendants the servants of the other son?  Why give enough food and wine to only one son?  How do these blessings and curses work? 
            Did what they say really make things happen?  And does this kind of thing happen nowadays?  Do our words have power to bless or curse someone, to actually make things happen?  Or was this just a “back in the Bible times” kind of thing, before Jesus came and changed the way things are done?
            When my oldest son was younger and went to Vacation Bible School, there was a decorative water-well built with cement blocks stacked one on top of the other, about three feet high.  To me, it was the perfect accident waiting to happen.  All it would take is one kid leaning on those blocks for them to all fall over and crush a foot. 
            And I told my son, “Stay away from that well or one of those rocks could fall and cut off a toe.”  And guess whose kid was the only one out of a hundred or so kids to get hurt by a cement block falling off of the well!?!  Yep, that’s right . . . mine.  (He didn’t lose a toe, but he did scratch up his leg.)  Did I somehow curse my son, set things in motion by my words?
            But if that’s the case, why haven’t all my kids fallen off of the swing-set or the couch or while riding their bikes and crack their heads open, like I am always warning them about?
            Don’t scoff.  When my friend’s husband, Jon, was a kid, his mom used to tell him and his brothers not to run on the sidewalk or else they could fall and break their wrists.  Well, one day, Jon’s brother was running on the sidewalk, and Jon reminded him not to do that.  And then in an over-exaggerated, mocking demonstration of what not to do, Jon ran down the sidewalk saying something like, “See, we’re not supposed to run down the sidewalk because we might . . .” and then he fell and broke his wrists.  Both of them!  So it could happen!
            (Dear God, please forgive me for every time I told them they would crack their heads open.  Do not hold those words against me or them, and I revoke them now in Jesus’ name and ask that You cancel any curse or “prediction” I might have made.  Even the one about how one of my sons is going to be living in his older brother’s basement when he gets older because I fear he won’t be able to keep a good job if he continues to be lazy and cut corners!)

            7.  “Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.  The angel of the Lord found Hagar . . . and he said . . . “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.”  (Gen 16: 6-9)  I can understand that there were reasons for sending Hagar back, especially since she was carrying Abraham’s child, but why send her back without first scolding Sarai with a “Hey, knock off the abuse.  She’s a person, too.  And a pregnant woman!”?  But as far as I can tell, Sarai was never admonished but was allowed to get away with her outbursts of rage against Hagar.  I don’t get it!

            8.  “Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.  A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.  That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.”  (1 Cor. 11:27-30.) 
            Interesting.  Very interesting.  And is there still a connection between sickness/death and partaking of the Lord’s table in an improper manner?  If so, what kind of sickness?  What kind of judgment do we eat and drink upon ourselves if we fail to approach communion in the proper, respectful way? 

            9.  Is it really a sin against the Lord to NOT pray? 
            1 Sam 12:23:  “As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you.”
            (I looked at this one in a post once, but I still have questions.)

            10.  Are lies ever okay?  Such as “No, that dress doesn’t make you look fat.”  Or “You did a good job speaking in front of everyone.  I’m sure no one noticed the mistakes.”  Or “Of course your new baby is adorable!”  In Joshua 2, Rahab hid the spies and then lied to the king’s men who were looking for them, sending them in a different direction.  Was that acceptable (or at least “overlook-able”) in God’s eyes?

            11.   “But I tell you that men will have to give an account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.”  (Matthew 12:36)  Really?  Every careless word?  What does it mean to “give an account”?  How do you define “careless word”?  Kinda makes me want to keep my mouth shut a lot more.

            12.  “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will
be done for you by my Father in heaven.”  (Matthew 18:19)  Was this only for the early church leaders or is it for us, too?  If it’s for us, too, why doesn’t it always “work”?  And if it is meant for us, too, but doesn’t always work, why word it that way . . . “You’ll get anything if two of you agree in prayer”?  Why not add, “But I get veto power and can override anything you ask for, even if a hundred of you agree about it”?  I’d be able to understand that a lot more.

            13.   “‘Have faith in God,’ Jesus answered.  ‘I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.  Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.’“  (Mark 11:22-24) 
            This one will always bug me.  It seems so sure and possible, yet so often it doesn’t work that way.  How do mountains move?  When?  How much faith is needed?  And what is faith really?
            Is it “faith that God will do it” or “faith in Him even if He doesn’t do it”?  But if you leave open the possibility that He might not do it (such as saying, “If it be Your will”) then can you ever say that you don’t have any doubt in your heart and that you really believe He’ll do it like Mark 11:22-24 says?  If I was able to push away all anxiety or doubt and to calmly say, “I know You can do it, Lord.  I trust You,” would it please God enough that He would grant my request?  Or would that be presumptuousness about His plans?  And would He really hold it against me if I waited faithfully for 30 days, but then I faltered and lost faith on day 31?  Will that faltering cancel out the previous faithful trust?  
            Can any of us ever move any mountain, or even a molehill, with our prayers if we have to believe ahead of time that it will happen, without any doubts?  Is it possible to know for sure what God should do and that He will do it, when we know that God has His own mysterious ways about why and when and how He answers prayer?  Is knowing that He can do something as faithfully-effective as claiming that He will do it?  Or do we have to “claim” that it will happen without any confirmation and risk looking like a fool who went out on a limb and put words in God’s mouth?  Is it “believing what we say” or “saying what we believe” that makes it happen?  I tell ya, this one confuses me!
            14.  Speaking of prayer, is perseverance in prayer (asking over and over again about something) really necessary?  Is it how God works? 
            He says that if we pray anything according to His Will, He will hear us and do it. 
            1 John 5:14-15:  “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.  And if we know that he hears us - whatever we ask - we know that we have what we asked of him.”
            Doesn’t this mean that He would do it when it is asked?  Are there other “requirements” for getting your prayers answered?  Would He really wait for us to ask 15 times before doing it?  Does He only do it if you want it badly enough, enough to pray for months and months about it?
            And the Bible says over and over again that He hears us when we cry out to Him, that He is close to the broken-hearted.  Is there more power in your prayers the more badly you want something or the more broken-hearted you are over it?  If you cry while you pray is He more likely to listen then if you calmly ask?  What if you are not an emotional type person? 
            And would He be more likely to do it if you got more people to ask for it than just having one person who was asking?  If you want healing, does it have to be the elders who pray, anointing you with oil, (James 5:14) or will God listen to just you when you ask?  Why is it that He is in the midst of “where two or three are gathered in His name”?  Does this mean if it’s only you – if you have no one else to gather and pray with, no one else to lean on – then He is not really there in your midst and that you have less “praying power”? 
            And where does humility fit in?  Is He more likely to respond to the prayers of one humbled heart or to the prayers of many believers who ask over and over again but who may not be so humbled?  Does it matter how humbled your heart is or just that you ask? 
            We oftentimes hear about how we are supposed to be persistent in prayer, but I wonder. 
            Daniel prayed for three weeks about a request (Daniel 10:12-13), yet the angel was dispatched with his answer after the first time he prayed.  So were the three weeks of praying really necessary in helping the answer arrive, or would it have come eventually had Daniel just waited and gone about his business?
            Paul prayed three times about getting the thorn in his side removed.  Just three times and then he accepted God’s “No.”  Jesus prayed three times in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26) about having the cup of death taken from Him and then He accepted God’s “No.” 
            How long is an acceptable amount of time to pray, to bring the same request over and over to God, before we should accept God’s “No”?  If it was His Will to do what we are asking, wouldn’t He have begun the process of answering that prayer the moment we prayed, since He promised He would do it if we prayed?  Or is there really power in (and a need for) persevering and “banging on the doors of heaven” over and over again, as we seem to be so fond of saying in our country?  Does our persistence change God’s mind or just exhaust and discourage us? 

            15.  How should we define “need”?  As in “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 4:19, KJV)  Of all things on this earth, we need air, food, and water, and yet people still die from starvation and suffocation.  So how should we define “need”?  And is this just an “in general” kind of promise?

            16.  In Matthew 15:21-28, we read about a woman who pestered Jesus for her daughter’s healing from demonic possession.  And yet, Jesus kept brushing her off.  He even basically referred to her as a dog when He said, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”  (Meaning that He didn’t come to serve the Gentiles, but the Jews.  And she was not a Jew.)  And yet, she pleaded all the more, even on the grounds that she was a “dog.” 
            “Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the masters’ table.”  She wouldn’t take no for an answer. 
            And in the end, Jesus said, “Woman, you have great faith!  Your request is granted.”  And her daughter was healed.   
            I have always struggled with this story.  I have always struggled with Jesus’ initial responses to the woman, how He rebuffed her.  Why?  When everyone else who reached out to him got healed?  It seems so harsh.  And I don’t quite understand it. 
            But more than that, I have always struggled with the idea that her persistence got her the healing and the title of “Woman of Great Faith.”  Because I know that I would not have responded the way that she did.  I would have asked once.  And when I got a “No,” I would probably have hung my head and said, “Well, You are God and so You know best and I will accept what You say.” 
            And I would think that my response of (what looks like) humble submission and acceptance would be the more proper and respectful response.  And that Jesus would be pleased with it.  Yet she pursued, she pleaded, she begged, and she even used her position as a “dog” to strengthen her plea.  Basically, she wrestled with Jesus.  And she was called a woman of great faith. 
            Hmm?  Still wondering how to balance asking/wrestling/persisting with humility, proper respect, and submission!      

            17.  Why don’t all moms have four arms? 
            (That right there is a case against evolution.  If all beings developed necessary appendages or adaptions over time to ensure their survival, then moms would have developed four arms.  But we still have two.  See, evolution is not true!)

            18.  Why mosquitoes!?!  Just . . . why?

How about you?  Any questions that perplex you?  That you still haven’t found answers for?  Or can you suggest any answers to these questions?  I’d be interested to read them.