In the iconic 80’s movie Say Anything, the teenage Diane Court and her single parent father have the kind of relationship that many of us wish we could have with our own parents or children — the kind of relationship where we can both ‘say anything.’ Of course, in the movie, we find out that this openness was pretty one-sided when Diane learns that her father has not been as forthright as she has been about the important stuff. And that is how it is with our fallen relationships — we cover ourselves, we leave things out and ‘yada yada’ over the embarrassing bits, and we often just can’t handle the truth when it comes our way. And then I think — how do I respond when God says stuff? Can He ‘say anything,’ or does He have to pull punches with me? Am I the kind of person that needs to be handled? Do I need a buffer like Israel in Deuteronomy 5 when they pleaded with Moses to hear from God for them so that they would not have to risk hearing from God themselves? Are the communication lines open between me and God, or are certain channels blocked?
I think about some amazing things God said to some of our brothers and sisters in the Bible and wonder if I would have believed that this was in fact God speaking to me in those strange circumstances. I wonder how Abraham knew that it was God speaking to him when God told him to sacrifice Isaac on the mountain. This does not sound like a thing God would require, especially since Isaac was a miracle baby, and God had promised to fulfill His promise to Abraham through this miraculous, chosen child. When I have read this story in the past, I have tended to focus on Abraham’s willingness to obey the command when it cost him so much. But lately, I’ve been more struck by just how Abraham knew that this was God speaking. The voice of God was clear to him even if the content was inscrutable.
Sometimes God tells people to do very odd things. In Ezekiel 4, He told Ezekiel to do a visual prophecy of the siege of Jerusalem by playing with pots and pans and heaping up dirt. And he is supposed to lie there for 430 days in the middle of this diorama. This is not something you take lightly — I start thinking of bed sores and how uncomfortable this would become for a whole year. And then God tells him to eat food that is cooked over a fire that is fueled by human dung. Ezekiel is game up till now, but this is just too much for him. Could an idea like this really come from God? I’m not really faulting him for questioning because it turns out God was okay with it and granted him his request for animal instead of human dung. There was a limit to what even Ezekiel could wrap his head around. The prophets had it rough. God tells Jonah to go to their worst enemy and preach judgment, but Jonah resists because he knows how merciful God is, and it was hard to want mercy for his enemies. But in the end Jonah does as God asked. Some were more willing than others, but all of the prophets heard things from God that were hard to accept at first blush. Am I willing to hear such things from God?
In my church, our pastor is in the middle of a series preaching through 1 Corinthians. This week, we got to probably the most uncomfortable part of the whole book, chapter 11. You’ve got to deal with gender roles, headship, angels, hair length, and head coverings — all of which pose unique challenges in our context. Modern commentaries tend to glide over this section lightly, and I know that other pastors have simply skipped this section, probably thinking that ‘discretion is the better part of valor’ (a coward’s excuse spoken by Falstaff, Shakespeare’s notorious coward). But I am thankful to be in a church where our pastor takes scripture seriously, and in spite of all the difficulties associated with the passage, he will cover the text. We approach the text believing that there is something there for us — now — or it wouldn’t be in the Bible. He didn’t answer every question, and maybe more questions were raised than answered, but we are taking the text seriously and listening.
So how truly open-minded are we when we hear God’s word? I remember fondly a family we knew 10-15 years ago. The teenage daughter was a committed Christian with an obedient heart that looked at scripture and wanted to obey everything God said. When she came to this sticky passage, it seemed clear to her that God intended the head covering as a command for all time — and she started to wear a scarf. Her mother then looked at the passage, came to the same conclusion, and started to cover her head too in support of her daughter’s obedience. Are our hearts this open — that we would change our lifestyle and habits in response to God’s word? In time, both mom and daughter came to a different understanding of the passage and have left the scarves behind, but I still admire so much their willingness to listen to whatever God was saying and act on it. Yes, we may misunderstand, but God will keep speaking and move us in the right path if we are willing to listen.
So, let’s keep an open mind and not be like the rich young ruler. For him, all the other commandments were no problem, but Jesus knew what he was holding out on. When Jesus told him to sell all his stuff and give it to the poor, he couldn’t take it. He shook his head sadly and walked away. Jesus couldn’t ‘say anything’ to him.
Let’s be faithful to God’s word like Abraham, who was willing to sacrifice the thing he held most dear. And the boy Samuel. At first he didn’t even recognize the voice of God, but when God continued to speak to him, he learned to say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears” (1 Samuel 3:10).