Sunday, September 17, 2006

Three Questions

From a member of the Madison Seventh Day Baptist Church after a Sabbath School discussion of a passage from Ecclesiasticus (a book from the Old Testament Apocrypha, considered canonical by Catholics, but not by Protestants).:
Look at the generations of old and see: who ever trusted in the Lord and was put to shame? Or who ever feared him steadfastly and was left forsaken? Or who ever called out to him and was ignored? (Ecclesiasticus 2:10, Jerusalem Bible, 1966)

Consider the ancient generations and see: who ever trusted in the Lord and was put to shame? Or who ever persevered in the fear of the Lord and was forsaken? Or who ever called upon him and was overlooked? (Ecclesiasticus 2:10, RSV)
The three questions the writer of the Book of Ecclesiasticus (also called Sirach) asks caught my attention this week as our Sabbath School class wends its way through selected portions of the Apocryphal books. Setting aside any discussion of the "inspiredness" of the text, how am I as a Christian to approach these questions? I am unwilling to gloss over them as simply rhetorical. At first blush I took the "long view" approach: Sure, eventually everything works out, in the end. Mr. Standfast brought me up short on that approach, and justifiably so. Clearly, although a reasonable approach, it doesn't sufficiently answer the questions asked.

I'm also unwilling to take the "health-and-wealth" approach: He who trusts in the Lord and is shamed is not really trusting in the Lord enough, or didn't fear him steadfastly enough, or call out to Him earnestly enough.

Then a member of the class referenced Psalm 91:7
A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand; but it will not come near you. (RSV)
The discussion petered out at that point, but it set my thinker thinking. How about the trials of Job, or John the Baptist, or the martyrdom of Stephen and the apostles, or dozens of other Biblical examples that bring these questions into play?

This is not a refrain of "Why do bad things happen to good people?" at least to me, although that line of thought is not inappropriate. C.S. Lewis and others settled that question in my mind years ago. But rather, the new (to me) question brought into play by the juxtaposition of Ecclesiasticus 2:10 and Psalm 91:7 centers on "What about the ten thousand at the right hand?" or "What about Job's sons and daughters? (Job 1:18-19)" Putting myself in their shoes, how would I answer these three questions?

This puzzle isn't shaking my faith, I shan't lose sleep over it, but it got me thinking, especially regarding similar passages (mostly in the Psalms) where God's protection seems to be chimerically applied by David and other writers.

Maybe I'm wrong - perhaps it is a rehash of bad things happening to good people. The "It's God's will!" answer is a copout. Sure, it's God's will, but that doesn't answer the questions. Mr. Standfast suggested looking at it from an eternal "outside of time" perspective, and maybe he's on the right track. I'll have to think on that some more. I just wanted to float this out for comment.
An exceptionally good book that attempts to address some of these questions is Philip Yancey's Disappointment with God. Another, of course is C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain.

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