22 Then Moses turned again to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you mistreated this people? Why did you ever send me? 23 Since I first came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has mistreated this people, and you have done nothing at all to deliver your people.” Exodus 5:22-23
There are days when I am glad that Scripture is messy. There are days when, despite the lectionary being a very flawed human creation, it presents us with a question that has no easy resolution. Moses has brought his complaint to God, because his people are being brutally treated in response to the message that he has brought to the Pharaoh. Now, in response to the message of liberation, the leader of Empire has directed the System to squeeze out those it cannot tolerate any longer. But where is God’s deliverance?
Look at the contrast between Moses yelling at God in the midst of crisis, and how a privileged friend of God reacts to the experience (or perhaps even the idea) of crisis several centuries later:
9 Because you have made the Lord your refuge,[a]
the Most High your dwelling place,
10 no evil shall befall you,
no scourge come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
12 On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the adder,
the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.
14 Those who love me, I will deliver;
I will protect those who know my name.
15 When they call to me, I will answer them;
I will be with them in trouble,
I will rescue them and honor them.
16 With long life I will satisfy them,
and show them my salvation. (Psalm 91:9-16)
Do you hear the tension? Who is right?
I love both/and thinking when I can get away with it. But I think there are some easy answers that we should avoid as Christians, especially if our bent is Evangelical or Pentecostal.
I love Ps. 91, don’t you? I mean, I have heard so many sermons extolling this Psalm as an amazing example of the character of God. God comes to our defense, and all we have to do is trust and obey. He’ll take care of the rest. Even those things that represent demonic powers will have no ability to touch us if we are hidden away in God’s heart–even the angels work on our behalf! One question I have is this: would our experience as Christians change if we really believed this? I pray so anemically sometimes–I have no clue what my authority is as a believer, not what God has deployed on my behalf. But that’s not the only hard question.
The second is this: Does Moses lack faith in God? Does he lack the “fuller revelation” of Ps. 91? Why does he dare bring a complaint–what the Bible often calls a lament–before God? Isn’t he being too audacious? I think one problem we have as Christians is that we’re comfortable with abstractions. We’re comfortable with statements like Psalm 91 (even though it’s a poem) or the letters of Paul because we can (allegedly) draw ‘principles’ from them that apply in all times and places. Personally, I think we should grapple with the stories first. (This is one reason the Gospels are the centre of the Scriptural tradition–everything we think we know has to be read through the stories about Jesus.)
I’ll take the courage of a Moses over the assurance of the Psalmist any day. I want to learn to lament, to get up in God’s face–not because I am rebellious, but precisely because God has called me his friend. I live with cerebral palsy. The stories of Jesus tell me that healing of the body is something he wants for me, and I am not yet healed. Is it because the Church in the West doesn’t have experience of healing ministry to any great depth? Is it because of spiritual warfare in a broken creation? Is it–though I shudder because of past accusations–that I lack faith? Should I just suck it up?
Should I suck it up when many of my friends with addictions and mental illness are in agony? Should I quote Psalm 91 when trans* friends are suicidal? Or do I dare, as I once did in a safe small group, to pray: “Lord, you know I love you, but I have a bone to pick with you. What the fuck is going on?!” Yes, my language was salty–but my friends, who are not enamored of false religion, understood.
I want to learn to lament and to fight with God. Those are the people who find that God calls them friends. And who knows? God might even trust us with a good and life-giving answer for our hard questions, even if it’s not the one we expect or prefer.