Monday, April 5, 2010

Disturbing Bible Stories

If you study your Bible very long one of the things that you will find is there are certain stories that can be rather disturbing. Stories that can make you wonder how well you understand this person we call God, and even some that can make you wonder if we really know Him at all.

For me one of those stories is the story of Uzzah. Many of us don’t remember the name, but most of know his tale. He was one of the men who was trying to return the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. He was following the orders of his king, when the wagon transporting the Ark hit a bump in the road and the Ark began to topple, Uzzah did what I think anyone of us would do. He put his hand out to save the Ark, and God struck him dead.

As a child, this story really bothered me, and when I would ask people, “Why?” The answers were never satisfying. It just did not make sense to me that he would be punished for trying to do the right thing. Okay, sure, David was going about it all wrong. He messed up royally, no pun intended, but Uzzah was just following orders. Doing what the man in charge had instructed him to do. It wasn’t his fault that David got it wrong, and I kept seeing myself in Uzzah’s place. As the one who had to do what they were told, who saw a disaster in the making and tried to stop it, and still got in trouble.

Even as I got older, it still bugged me. How does this happen? How can a person be punished for trying to do the right thing? It didn’t seem just or loving. It didn’t line up with my understanding of who God is. So I tried to ignore the story. It is easier that way, just act like the hard parts of the Bible don’t exist, and presto, your theology can remain simple, easy, and comfortable.

The thing is you don’t learn when you do that. Failing to ask the hard questions means you never get the great answers. Sure the process may hurt, and you may find that some of the things you once believed about God need to be reevaluated, tweaked, or even scrapped. It’s okay. It doesn’t mean God is any less God. It means you are growing up. Just like when we stop to consider our parents as adults and not simply as a child. They are still our parents, but we can begin to appreciate more of who they are.

Even later in life when I returned to the story, I began to see some things I had missed before. One of those things was Uzzah wasn’t a nobody. He wasn’t some ignorant worker who did not know better. The Ark had been kept at his father’s house, so he probably already knew a thing or two about how it should be treated. He had been chosen to be close to the Ark, a position of honor, probably for this very reason. So this leaves us with the question, if he knew so much, why did he allow the king to make such a horrendous mistake?

Why didn’t he speak up? Remind David of the proper protocol, refuse to be involved when he saw things were not being done according to God’s will? Was he seduced by the honor offered by the king? Was he worried about offending David? Or did he hope that good intentions would be sufficient?

Now when I read the story, I wonder when in my life have I been Uzzah? Willing to cut corners, go with the flow, or hide behind the excuse “I was only doing what I was told”? Have I ever been bought off by recognition and honor, because I let myself believe that good intentions made up for disobedience? Or am I just being lazy or fearful?

We will all be confronted with times when someone will ask us to do something we know isn’t right. In that moment we will have to decide whether the prestige of such request outweighs our reverence for the things of God. In my life, I pray that I am willing to speak up, or decline to be involved, when I face these times. I pray that I have the grace to do it with compassion and mercy but with a firmness of conviction that will not allow me to be swayed from my intent to honor the King.

It isn’t always easy. People don’t always respond well to being corrected, and sometimes in our fervor people can be irritated by those they believe stand in their way. We can lose out on the perks, be seen as trouble makers, and even shunned by people who fail to understand our hearts. And make no mistake, it can hurt, but Uzzah lost his life because he kept quiet. He died because he failed to take a stand. I don’t want to be that person.

And as someone who is in leadership, I would hope that my people would speak up. Correct me if they see that I am wrong. David grieved over Uzzah’s death, as a good leader should. His purpose of returning the symbol of God’s glory to people was delayed, and he had to stand before his people aware that he had failed them as a leader. Everyone knew that he shared in the responsibility to for Uzzah’s death. That is just one place I never want to be.

So let Uzzah’s story be reminder, there are times to find our backbone, use our voice, and share our knowledge. And there are times when we need to hear from those in our lives that may know something we don’t. It really could be a matter of life or death.

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