Author asks right questions

Curtis Shelburne

Of the three major events of Jesus’ life—Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter—only the Crucifixion took place completely out in the open for all the world to see. And when the four writers of the Gospels set forth their accounts of Jesus’ life, they devote one-third of their time to that most excruciating event in history when God the Son hung powerless, nailed in seemingly complete failure, to a Roman cross.

So writes Philip Yancey in his fine book Disappointment With God. The book is subtitled, “Three Questions No One Asks Aloud.”

Actually, the questions are often asked loudly by skeptics; thoughtful Christians also ask them but usually much more quietly and often with some serious and irrational guilt. (The psalmists regularly asked the very same questions, so I’m pretty sure God doesn’t mind when his people today do.)

In the book Yancey, who invariably asks the right questions, is asking why God, at the very times when we most need his presence and power in our lives, so often seems silent, or hidden, or unfair. Contrary to the “name it and claim it and don’t forget to send a big check” TV preachers and more than a few megalomaniacal mega-church gurus, God doesn’t seem to have gotten the memo promising health, wealth, success, and unbroken blessing for those who get the faith formula (involving a good bit more magic and manipulation than faith) just right.

Something really bad happens on the road to the unbroken success the “faith” gurus promise. You spin out, hit the wall, flame out, face failure, get broken. Then some paragon of plastic piety hits you with another of his many easy throw-down answers: If only your faith were stronger, it wouldn’t have happened. If you had real faith you wouldn’t be wondering why God seems at times silent, or hidden, or unfair. (So shame on you for wondering!)

I hope you don’t pay attention to such “gurus.” Even the Son hanging on the cross asked his Father, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (That it was a quotation from a psalm does not strip it of its poignant reality.)

We all like it best when God’s answer to our prayers seems obvious and impossible to miss. At the cross, we’d most definitely have opted for an army of 10,000 angels wiping out Christ’s enemies. Long before the cross, we’d have given in to every one of Satan’s temptations of Christ (Matthew 4) by focusing on flashy miracles, playing to the crowds, and worshiping power (see any of that in “religion” today?).

But Yancey is right: “The spectacle of the Cross, the most public event of Jesus’ life, reveals the vast difference between a god who proves himself through power and One who proves himself through love.”