God Wins: Chapter 1 – No Questions.

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Before you read this reflection on Chapter 1, you can actually read the chapter here.

As I noted in a previous post, it seems that Galli has a problem with asking God questions, or rather, with Rob Bell and others asking God questions. Here, I think Galli gets Bell’s book wrong in that Bell is not flippantly asking God questions, but going through the questions which are asked to a pastor from sometimes troubled parishioners. Galli notes that he is concerned with the nature of the questions, placing a difference between “questions and questions”. Our author goes on to note Mary and Zechariah as an example of these two types of questions. While I will not get into the purpose of the Gospel (stories), I will note the drama of the scenes. First, Mary was chosen because of her faith and obedience while it is not specifically said exactly why Zechariah was chosen. Giving these two wildly different people as examples of what questions can be asked of God reinforces the idea that Galli is handling the text as a flat document instead of allowing for varying types of narrative in Scripture, or even, a variety of characters. The questions are asked by two different types of people, so perhaps, Galli is really condemning the latter person who needs more than a simple word from another, which if we read further, we find exemplified in Thomas who questioned and doubted, but was not condemned, serving instead to bring about a uniquely Johannine revelation of whom Jesus Christ really is. Not to mention that Gideon pushed God more with his questioning, which was of the same same as Zechariah – both men wanted a sign, and both men received it. This relates back to the Pastor which Rob Bell is, in that he allows his congregation to be who they are in Christ. Some are Peter who runs to the tomb and John, and others are Thomas and Peter the one who is rebuked as Satan. In this, Galli hasn’t proved his points about Rob Bell’s questioning, and in fact, shows that he hasn’t yet received the intent of Bell’s book.

And to further show that Galli is willing to proof text Scripture, he quotes Jesus in Matthew 16.4 (which, oddly enough, is a different author than Luke with different stories and goals) about the evil generation demanding a sign to believe that Jesus was the Christ, not in condemning signs altogether. In this, I find it difficult to connect asking for ‘signs’ and questioning doctrines and theological positions, as well as understandings of Scripture. How else do we engage the Text and, indeed, our own Traditions, unless we question and seek to find what is right and good and Godly? Further, Bell is not asking for a sign, and neither, as to the best of my knowledge, is the congregation. They are asking, like countless others have and will, whether a not a loving God will (not always can, but will) send someone to hell for a variety of reasons. Is this really to be condemned as fool-hearty? And if Galli cannot tell the difference between questioning and asking for signs (which one of the differences between Mary and Zechariah; Mary questioned, while Zechariah asked for, and received, a sign), how much more can I expect from him in determining Bell’s arguments? He notes that these questions are asking God to ‘prove himself on human terms’ and yet, aren’t all questions asking God to display Himself so that we can understand Him better? Isn’t the Incarnation the ultimate answer from God in human terms? He goes on then to write about examining the heart (to which I agree), but how can he examine the heart of a questioner who had the question printed in a book after being asked to a pastor who then turns the tables around to those who do not question, but only condemn? Galli’s line of reasoning here is disastrous and betrays the fact that Galli seems to be fearful of actual questioning.

In Isaiah 1.18, YHWH tells Israel to come and ‘reason’ with him, which according to one Hebrew Scholar, allows for the meaning as exemplified in Abraham’s questioning of the God’s destruction of Sodom, and in particular, it is by Abraham’s questioning of God that the promise to spare all was given:

Surely you wouldn’t do such a thing, destroying the righteous along with the wicked. Why, you would be treating the righteous and the wicked exactly the same! Surely you wouldn’t do that! Should not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?” (Gen 18:25 NLT)

It would seem then, that Galli not only doesn’t know that questioning God directly is possible, but so is reminding Him of his position in the universe, as even Moses did when God was intent on destroying the Children of Israel in the Wilderness. Further, as Galli noted earlier, the bible is filled with wonder and mystery, and according to him, the more truest doctrines do not make sense. How then can we know doctrines, wonders and mysteries if we do not reason those things out by questioning?

He ends this relatively short chapter with two examples, one from Habakkuk and the other from Job. In Habakkuk, he draws from the Prophet’s questioning 1.2-4 and 1.12-13 with God’s answer given in 2.2-3. (I note that the ESV Study Bible provides an excellent viewpoint on the issue of Habakkuk’s questioning and God’s response, which I would hope that Galli has at least consulted along with other critical commentaries and Study Bibles.) I am unsure as to how the prophet Habakkuk compares the pastoral questions of Rob Bell in Galli’s mind, but nevertheless, this issue isn’t in Galli’s mind when he carelessly uses the ancient Prophet who is writing after much warning to Jerusalem and, as Prophets do to both God and the People, asking questions which need not be answered. If Galli is hoping to draw a parallel here between the Prophet and Bell, as he tried to do so between Mary and Zechariah, he fails as Habakkuk’s goal is different than Bell’s. The Prophet’s work is set up into three parts. Parts 1 and 2 are cycles of Lament and Divine Response. The third part is the prophet’s prayer. In these Laments, as they often are, are questions which are set up to be answered by the Divine. This style is not unique to Habukkuk, but to take the genre of a book in Scripture and apply it across the board, even suppressing context, is to do injustice to the whole of Scripture and indeed, to be dishonest in one’s treatment of modern situations.

Following Habakkuk, Galli turns to Job in a section entitled, “None of Job’s Business“. I find this title particularly ironic because we have the Book of Job which tells us all of Job’s business. If this book was taken as an historical event, even then we are left with the dramatic irony of having a divine view of the proceedings in that we know the story from beginning to the end, with what was going on in heaven and on earth. Humanity questioned; God through inspiration answered with the Book of Job, something Galli obviously misses when he notes, “What we see in these two incidents is that God seems relatively unconcerned with giving specific answers to the anguished questions of Habakkuk and Job.” What the author misses is that the answers were given, in Habakkuk’s case, by the previous Prophets, but more importantly, God’s answer was to remind the Prophet that this was due but that God was still sovereign and this is done not with reading Habakkuk piecemeal as it seems Galli has, but the whole of the precious book. In Job, while he may not be given the answers, we the reader are. Job, if not taken as a historical account, serves as a Wisdom book which gives answers to those with an ear to hear. If you take both of these books as flat, historical accounts, given in a literal method, and further, pieces out of those books, then you miss both the questions and the answers, but more importantly, you miss God’s message in them.

I must wonder about Galli’s own pastoral concerns, not as a personal attack, but in that he writes that God doesn’t take our questions seriously and that the same God who send us Christ makes a habit out of ignoring questions which “throws into doubt his kindness or justice.” Is this the God of the Bible who gave us the Law, the Prophets, and finally, Christ to answer our questions about God’s justice and kindness? When has God ignored us except in our Sin, and even then, He heard the cries of Israel, and indeed, all of humanity by continuously sending them redemption, and finally sending us Christ? I fear that the rejection of questioning is not so much biblical as Galli likes to assume, but a protection against the author’s own fears either in himself or in those to whom he might minister too. God is not silent, nor does he “refuse to submit himself to our interrogations.” Instead, He is a God which engages in conversation (theology) with His Creation and demands questioning.

If you were to examine the questions offered by ]] in the first chapter, there are 86 of them as Galli notes, then you would see that many of the questions are pastoral, but more importantly, intrusive not into God’s holiness, kindness, and justice, but into our own theology and thoughts about God and his holiness, kindness, and justice. It is a shame that instead of answering those questions, posed not to God but to Mark Galli, that our author instead commended the age-old myth of never questioning, and confusing questioning with asking for a sign.

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