The signs and miracles that we so often ask of God can put us into a bit of theological difficulty if we are not careful. Our doubting hearts are more capable of seeing the contradictions than the confirmations, and these become stumbling blocks before us.
But they don't have to.
It is true that Gideon asked God to do two seemingly-contradictory things: make the ground wet and make the ground dry; make the wool wet and make the wool dry. It is easy, then, to look at the God who does both of these signs with the same authority and determine that He must be in some ways unpredictable. If God can do these two dramatically different things, these two completely opposite signs, then God could do essentially anything that He ever desired to do. And how could we ever know what that desire would be?
We do not, however, have to see these as contradictory actions. In fact, they are not. God was not asked to control either the wool or the ground; He was asked only to control the dew. This, He did, on both counts. Therefore, it is perhaps most reasonable for us to conclude that God has such mastery of the dew that He is able to hold it in either direction for His own glory.
Why does this matter? Because it pulls us out of a place where we have to reconcile a God who does dramatically opposite things. Rather, our God has done one thing. And He has done it so well that it looks completely opposite, but in fact, it is not. And do we not know that our God is the God of the paradox? This is fitting completely, then, with His nature.
It also brings us to a theology that allows us to look for the absolute authority of God and the consistency of His character. He is one thing. He does one thing - good for His glory. That's it. All of a sudden, what seemed like a theological difficulty is in fact a great comfort.
The same can be said when we look at Jesus, who routinely "broke" the Sabbath in order to heal. This troubled the Pharisees a great deal. What do we make of a God who breaks His own word in order to do something else? If God doesn't keep the Sabbath, then why do we have to? If God doesn't follow His own word, then why should we?
Jesus' repeated defense of this action is to declare that He's not breaking the Sabbath; He's fulfilling it. The Pharisees never do seem to wrap their minds around this. Neither, really, do we. We have in our heads an idea of what Sabbath means, an idea we gained from having so long to try to figure it out on our own. The Pharisees had hundreds of rules governing the Sabbath, all in an effort to figure it out. Jesus says their trouble with the Sabbath was not His healing on it, but their understanding of it.
So it is with most of our troubles with God.
It's not that God is doing a thing that stands against another thing that God is doing. It's often that our definitions and understandings just don't fit what God intended in the first place. Jesus does not try to unrestrict the Sabbath; He tries to redefine it. He tries to get the Pharisees to see what God intended with the day of rest all along. They just can't do it. That's why they're stuck in the theological difficulty of a so-called Son of God who can't seem to get the most basic thing right.
Reimagine the Sabbath, and the theological difficulty disappears.
This is an incredible challenge for us, one that we fail to rise to meet again and again. For whatever reason, our understandings, our definitions, our implications are so difficult to change once we've established them. Our understandings are not responsive to the testimony of the living God, even today, and that leaves us stuck in some terrible places.
But the truth is that every theological question that we have, at least, all of the ones that I can think of, are most easily solved by a reimagining of our terms. They are best addressed by uncovering God's original design/intent/covenant regarding one issue or another. When I give up the things that I think I know and go back to asking the questions, I discover an understanding that not only satisfies my theological difficulties but draws me more deeply into the very heart of God. Who, it turns out, has been doing this one thing from the very beginning.
There is one more idea that we've been looking at this week - the cries of the blind men, the lame, the disabled who longed to know that this God was for them. Just as we long to know that our God is for us. This particular dynamic raises its own sticky theology, not the least of which is the problem of suffering. If we have a God who is for us, why isn't He always for us? Why do we suffer? This issue is so central to many of our deepest questions that it deserves its own discussion.
So stay tuned tomorrow for that one.