It happened to me again this morning.
Each morning, I look here to find the day’s Scriptures. Sometimes, I read them right off the computer screen and sometimes I prefer to be a little more nostalgic and grab one of my Bibles.
There are many parts of the Bible that cause me to struggle, and I agree that this is a good thing. I get worried when someone tells me, “You just have to take it literally and you won’t have any questions.” Really? Because I think that causes me more questions and people who believe they have all the answers scare me a little. I believe that we’re supposed to struggle with Scripture. It’s supposed to make us uncomfortable and cause us to ask questions and discuss it with each other. I believe that God is glorified in that struggle.
But it’s still difficult.
It happens a lot in the Psalms, I think. This morning, the two Psalms are 63 and 149.
Here is Psalm 149:
1Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the faithful.
2Let Israel be glad in its Maker; let the children of Zion rejoice in their King.
3Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre.
4For the Lord takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with victory.
5Let the faithful exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their couches.
Isn’t that beautiful? I love that Psalm. I love new songs and praising God and dancing and I even sometimes like tambourines. This Psalm would be my favorite if that’s where it stopped.
6 Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands,
7 to execute vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples,
8 to bind their kings with fetters and their nobles with chains of iron,
9(a) to execute on them the judgment decreed.
Why the violence all of a sudden? I thought we were praising God? Well, then our Psalmist ends on a high note:
9(b) This is glory for all his faithful ones. Praise the Lord!
See, whenever I use a Psalm like this in youth group or Sunday School or a sermon, it is so temping to edit. I want to talk about God’s goodness and singing a new song–I don’t want to talk about carrying a double edged sword and executing vengeance!
But the Scripture isn’t ours to edit. God’s words have to stand for themselves and we are left to struggle with them.
One of our favorite Psalms, 139, does this, too. The Psalmist writes about God knowing the innermost being, being acquainted with all his thoughts, knitting him together in his mother’s womb, being familiar with all his ways. The Psalm continues:
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When i am awake, I am still with you.
19 If only you would slay the wicked, O God! Away from me, you bloodthirsty men!
20 They speak of you with evil intent. Your adversaries misuse your name!
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? Or abhor those who rise up against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them. I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart, test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.
Jesus always was saying things that make me uncomfortable. He says some things that make it hard for me to have a children’s sermon. For example, this last Sunday’s Lectionary Gospel was Mark 9:42-50. It’s difficult to read about plucking out our eyes or cutting off our hands or being thrown into hell. Does that part belong there? It must belong there since Jesus said it. Do I like it that it’s there? No. It’s difficult and I didn’t do my children’s message about it (I talked about being salt from the “green” part of the passage).
Jesus curses a fig tree, teaches hard things about divorce, says, “let the dead bury their dead,” tells us that it’s hard to get into heaven and we have to take the narrow way, and that the sheep and the goats will be separated.
And then, he blesses children, heals the broken and loves the outcast.
It’s a daily adventure and struggle reading God’s word.
So, what do you think? What are the difficult parts of Scripture for you?