What kind of God do you serve? The more and more I think about it, the more I realize that the God of the Bible is very different from the God they teach you about in Sunday School. I remember Sunday School as a world of flannel boards and happy songs about this guy named Jesus and some guy Abraham who wasn’t my father, but we sang like he was. I remember candy bribes, crayon pictures… and being scared and alone.
Scared and alone? That doesn’t sound like your typical day at Sunday School. But perhaps it’s worth lingering over. I had finally grown out of the 4’s & 5’s Sunday School class and was up in the 1st through 3rd grade group. The three grades would meet together for an opening time and then split up into individual grades for the rest of the class. During that big group I sat next to my older brother. I didn’t recognize anybody and I was scared. The teacher in the front asked if there was anybody new. I was new. I’d never been in this room of the church before, and I hardly recognized half the kids. I slowly raised my little hand, looking around to see who else was new. The teacher smiled and welcomed me to the church. My brother glared at me and informed me that I wasn’t new. A confused look overcame the teacher and tears blurred up my eyes. I thought she meant… I mean I haven’t been here… My mind was spinning but silence was my only reply. My brother spoke up and saved me, explaining that I had just moved up from the younger group. The teacher smiled and the happy little class continued. I wiped away my tears and hoped nobody noticed.
Sunday School. They taught me about a happy God. A God who sent his Son to die for us. I remember the stories of Jesus being taught between Christmas and Easter. I was always confused how he could be born in December and four months later die on the cross a grown man. Sunday School came with easy answers and few questions. But as I read the Bible now, I don’t see the same God my Sunday School teacher told me about. I do see the same loving, all powerful God. I see the same God who created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. I see the same God who parted the Red Sea, brought down the walls of Jericho, made Goliath come tumbling down, and sent his Son to pay the price for my sins. But now I see a God who gets angry. Jesus showed his anger in the temple and flipped tables over. I see a God who doesn’t always make sense. Elijah killed 400 prophets of Baal but the wicked king Ahab walked away untouched. Abraham lied several times about Sarah being his wife, and yet he received blessing for it. Jacob tricked his brother out of his birthright and his father’s blessing. I see a God who doesn’t quite fit the Sunday School box. If Jesus were in my Sunday School class I don’t think he would have gotten the candy for answering questions and being a good boy. I see a God who defies what we expect of him.
I see a God who causes pain and causes joy, he causes sickness and causes healing, he blesses and he curses–and all for his glory. Who am I to question what God does? Am I to sit here on earth and tell God it’s not fair, tell the God who created me and gave me life that it’s not fair my life isn’t perfect? At least I have a life, however trouble-filled mine may be (and mine certainly isn’t). Maybe it’s easy for me to say God causes the difficult things–disease, accidents, death–none of them are happening to me. But you still can’t deny that God allows them to happen. It goes against everything they ever taught me in Sunday School. But it has to be true. How could death happen without God having his hand in it?
I also see a God who is sometimes silent. One thing I remember from Sunday School is that God’s always there for you. Sometimes we’ve been bad and he somehow ends up outside. But he quietly knocks at the door and waits for us to let him back in. He’s always knocking and wanting to be let back in. But I don’t think God sits at the door of our hearts and begs and pleads for us to let him in. He’s not like the smallest kid in third grade who wants to play kickball. I think sometimes God doesn’t answer. He lets us stew in our own mess, and rescues us in his time, not ours. I’m not saying he’s not there for us–I’m just saying he’s there for us when he knows he needs to be there, not when we think he needs to be there.
I think that’s what it comes down to. God doesn’t fit what we think. I would pick a perfect man to be my spokesman. God picked Moses, a man who stuttered. God picked Elijah, a man who taunted, showboated, and then crumbled in despair. Frankly God doesn’t care much for what we think.
I remember a girl in Sunday School. Her name was Carrie. She wore big glasses that covered her round face and magnified her eyes. She was bigger than all the other kids and probably older. But she couldn’t talk right. She mumbled incoherent sentences and I could never understand her. Most of the kids kept their distance. We didn’t go out of our way to avoid her, but we didn’t go out of our way to talk to her either. But one person did. The Sunday School teacher. She was probably the only reason Carrie came at all. Carrie would always sit in the front row, next to the wall with the window. Whenever she raised her hand the teacher would call on her and listen patiently while Carrie mumbled through a response the rest of us couldn’t understand. But somehow the teacher understood and nodded, smiled. I can’t help but wonder if God is a little bit like that Sunday School teacher.