Last Monday we had our last PhD seminar meeting on Old Testament Ethics with Dr. Block, in which we faced one of the toughest issues in the whole Bible: God’s command for Israel to exterminate the Canaanites. It’s a dark part of biblical history, and one that is very difficult to reconcile with the LOVE of God and His desire for His people to bless all nations. One of the books we read in preparation for class is Christopher J. H. Wright’s the God i Don’t Understand: reflections on Tough Questions of faith. Wright’s blend of authenticity and faith is truly refreshing. Look at how he starts one of his chapters:
“In chapter 4 we looked at some common approaches to the problem of the conquest of Canaan, but we found that none of them is really satisfactory. What are we to say then? Is there any ‘solution’?”
“I have wrestled with this problem for many years as a teacher of the Old Testament, and I am coming to the view that no such ‘solution’ will be forthcoming. There is something about this part of our Bible that I have to include in my basket of things I don’t understand about God and his ways.” (page 86, emphasis mine)
Wright goes on to offer three helpful frameworks for understanding the slaughter of the Canaanites. His explanation is the best I’ve read on the subject. But he offers more than answers. He models a life of faith in scholarship—a life of faith seeking understanding. Wright is committed to the God of the Bible and to the truth of the Bible, but he doesn’t insist on having everything wrapped up in tidy little boxes. God is not tidy like that. He is awe-some and mighty, and he doesn’t fit in anybody’s box.
And so, instead of a box, Wright has a basket. In his basket are all the things he wants to ask God about someday. These things have the potential to derail his faith. They have done so for many others. But Wright refuses to let gaps in his understanding prevent him from surrendering to the God whose ways are beyond ours. This does not make his Christianity into a blind leap, though. Yes, there are gaps, but Wright chooses to stake his faith on what he does know about God—His unbounded love for us, His victory over sin and death, and the hope of His coming to make all things right again.
I have a basket, too—a place for questions I can’t wait to ask Jesus in person someday. The more I study, the more my basket fills up. Where did Satan come from? How are we supposed to read Genesis 1? Why didn’t the Old Testament outlaw slavery? What did Paul really mean in 1 Timothy 2:12? What’s the deal with head coverings? Who wrote the Pentateuch . . . and when? Why is the Song of Songs in the Bible? Is Job a true story or an epic poem? Is Jonah a true story or a parable? How extensive was the flood? Can a true believer reject the faith? If God can bring healing, why doesn’t he? What about those who die without hearing about Jesus? I carry these questions and many more in my basket. But none of these questions changes the fact that I’ve been transformed by the love of God, poured out through the sacrifice of his Son, Jesus, on my behalf. I’ve learned to live without certainty in some areas because God’s grace is sure.
How about you? Is your faith stalled by questions you cannot answer? I think Wright wants us to go forward with what we know of God, and hold our questions in a basket. These questions are important, and they should not simply be abandoned, but some of them may turn out to be unanswerable on this side of eternity. Our finite minds can only grasp so much. It would be a pity to insist on complete knowledge, when we aren’t wired to be able to handle it all anyway.
So we bring our questions along for the ride. Perhaps the answers will become clear over time, and perhaps not, but either way we will not miss out on the adventure of faith.