“…Joash replied to the hostile crowd around him, “Are you going to plead Baal’s cause? Are you trying to save him? Whoever fights for him shall be put to death by morning! If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar.””
I think I read this text for the first time when I was 10 years old. Not every kid goes around reading the Book of Judges when they’re that young but, in the world I grew up in, it made sense. I had already read the coolest book in the bible, Revelation, several times, and Paul is quite boring until you’re old enough to get it, so the Old Testament was the place to go until I was about 13. Short stories, soap-opera family drama, cool battles, angels destroying armies overnight, tales of glory, and clear life advice like don’t kill people unless God tells you to, or, manage well your budget, don’t be lazy, listen to your parents. I highly recommend the OT for 10 year olds. Anyhow, there was I, reading the story of Gideon. Gideon destroyed a statue of Baal, a rival god, and when Baal’s followers came to kill him, Joash, Gideon’s father, defended him with that clear checkmate: If Baal is god, you don’t have to protect him, he’ll protect himself.
That verse screwed me up forever. Why? Because I understood the reverse is true, too. The Lord does not need to be defended, he defends himself. If there’s a God up there, he doesn’t need us to protect him from ourselves. From thereon I was never really afraid to ask questions “against” God, I was never really afraid to question religious authority and dogma, because I just trusted that, if I ever crossed God’s sacred ground, He would let me know. He would stop me. Jesus’ constant sass against the pharisees’ and against the Torah experts, as portrayed in the gospels, had already made it all too clear to me that religious men are never to be fully trusted when speaking on behalf of God.
I have found, however, that this is not a popular standpoint among the religious. Most Christians I know, some of them well-intended, beloved friends of mine, rush to defend God every time. Particularly, they defend God’s “word”, and in that, they have declared a crusade against academia. Their world breeds anti-intellectualism and willful ignorance.
Studying in a liberal, secular university, I have encountered a world way different than the caricature given by my evangelical peers: I had expected raging atheists investing their whole lives into destroying God’s “word”, the bible. What I found, instead, were professors who are fascinated with wonder for the Truth, and who will not stop asking the hard questions because they simply can’t afford to deceive themselves and stay comfortable, if truth is not comfortable. They open Spurgeon’s cage and they wrestle with the bible, instead of building walls around it. They love the bible, but they do not worship it. For them, the Word of God is not a compilation of books, but rather, they actually trust and listen to the books to reveal who the true Word of God is: The Eternal Logos, Jesus Christ in the flesh.
I have been inclined to believe that the spiritual pursuit of truth does not settle for dogma and systematic theology, but on knowing God in a personal level. Like Abraham who pleaded for Sodom, like Israel who wrestled with the Lord, like David who ate bread from the altar and who declared, boldly, “God wants mercy, not sacrifice“, going against all established dogma of the day. Like the Christ who defended a flagrant adulterous woman, and later stood before God’s perfect judgement and said “they know not what they do“, taking our place. Like Luther who said before the experts of his time, “I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen“, I believe God invites us to walk in the unknown and have our minds transformed by encountering him, rather than embracing the dead letter.
I believe in truth. I cannot defend what needs not defending. I will not preach to myself a dogma while everything I know says I’m wrong: that’s called brainwashing. I will not defend doctrines against intellectual honesty and my conscience. I will, however, trust in the God I know, who has revealed himself to me through many Scriptures, through life, through nature, through experience, through people, through his Spirit.
I believe in a living God who is present, not an absent father that wants me to be content with a letter he left me two thousand years ago, with traditions from someone who heard from someone who heard from someone, generations on. If I am crossing sacred ground, if I am falling on the terrible hands of this living God, then help me God. Miserere mei.