Honest Questions, Hard Answers

If anyone comes to me and does not hat his father and mother, his wife, his children, his brothers, and his sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. — Luke 14:26

(This is Henry.) [Note – corrected to add text at beginning. I somehow left it out the first time!]

I have been accused of not giving reasonably simple answers to people who ask me questions. I’ve even been accused of not giving answers at all. I sometimes say that I’m more about questions than answers.

But while I’m not even close to prepared to compare myself to Jesus as a teacher, on this point I think I’m in good company—his company!

Just look at this text. That’s tough stuff. And what’s more, he doesn’t tell us how we can love one another, love our neighbor as ourselves, and carry on living if we hate our own lives. He really presents us with a difficult situation.

Now there are those who try to solve this problem by using the Greek words. “’Hate’ doesn’t quite mean what it does in English,” they tell us. It’s more like “reject,” or perhaps “put a lower priority on.” While it’s true that the Greek word doesn’t have an identical range of meaning to the English word, the challenge of this text is not truly reduced by the language.

I can use instances of the English word “hate” in my Bible to make the same point, such as Romans 9:13–”Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” Paul is quoting Malachi 1:2-3. If I use that example to make it easier, then I might be led to actually read Malachi 1:3, which says: “but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” Sounds like real hatred to me, not lower priority!

Now you may think this is too tough for a devotional, but bear with me. I got some insight into this issue this week while working on some graphics for a web site. I’m not very good at graphics. I know the technical stuff, how the computer stores it, and how the various elements are made. But actually making something look the way I want it to is a challenge.

I was working on the edges of one picture that I wanted to inset into another, and trying to get the edge smooth. This is harder than you might think because of the way the computer stores and displays the information. It’s best to get a shaded boundary where the various pixels (dots on your screen) shade from one color to the next. When you magnify a computer screen, what you see is definitely not what you get.

That’s when I thought of it. There’s a simple view of graphics, which is the one I have in my head. It has never been made more complicated by taking art classes or even reading art books. It’s a simple framework.

But the deeper I go into a problem the more subtleties I have to understand. Some of you probably read my paragraph above about how the graphics work on a computer and it made no sense to you, and what’s more you didn’t care. Your eyes may have glazed over. Some readers probably quit reading, and thus I can’t address them any more.

Why can’t God just answer our questions for us? Because we just wouldn’t get it. Following God is a spiritual, intellectual, and even a physical discipline. So when Jesus talks about discipleship, he doesn’t tell us that we have to put a slightly higher priority on him over our families. He gives us a stark contrast, one that seems even to contradict other commands he gave. (See Matthew 15:4ff where Jesus condemns the Pharisees for declaring something a gift to God that was needed by parents.)

What Jesus is asking you to do with commands like this is to get into the hard process of prayer and thought and work out what you need to do with your brothers and sisters in community while all listen to the Holy Spirit. He’s giving you a very hard answer to make you go further into those subtleties.

Yes, the framework of our faith is simple. We are saved by God’s grace. But the wonder of it all is that God saves us from our sins and calls and enables us to grow in him. The framework is simple. What you fit into it can grow eternally.

We all have those honest questions. Are we ready to work with God’s hard answers?

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