It’s supposed to be our family’s holiest time together. It ends up being a veritable minefield.
Whether this is because it’s at the end of the day or there are possibly other forces at work, our family prayer and bible study time is fraught with all manner of challenges. Conflicts erupt from the most unexpected direction and over the littlest things. It evolves to curt words directed to one who is supposedly delaying the others or shouted demands ‘to get the show on the road speedily’ because someone is eager to get back to what they feel are more pressing commitments.
Our routine is to read through a chapter, taking turns to read verse by verse. There are nights when we have spent valuable time bickering over whether the taking turns ought to move clockwise or anticlockwise. You would think with our method, it would be easy to pick up from where we left off the previous day but big arguments have been known to break out over the chapter for the day. On alternate nights we listen to the audio version and sometimes we squabble over whether its the reading or the listening day.
As if our foibles and propensity to disagree are not challenging enough, the very subject matter we are reading comes with its own complications. This year we have been working our way through the old testament. We teed off in Genesis – the book of beginnings – and are committed to reading through the easy passages and the hard ones. Some content feels R rated and one is tempted to press pass on some chapters. For instance, the passage where the men of Sodom demand that Lot, Abraham’s nephew bring out his visitors so they can have their way with them, or Judah consorting with a prostitute who turned out to be his daughter in law and Reuben sleeping with his father’s concubine.
Nevertheless, we soldier on. We do not have ambitions as lofty as completing the bible together but we are committed to a chapter a day. They say by perseverance the snail reached the ark.
The girls have no qualms questioning the ancient text and we have fielded all manner of interesting questions. Honestly speaking, why did God put the second tree in the garden when He knew that Eve and Adam would get themselves and the rest of us into trouble? “What about the girls?”, I have lost count of the number of times our daughters have demanded indignantly. They are shocked that the girls are hardly ever listed in the genealogy lists. “Why doesn’t God like women and girls?”, they wonder.
As hard as these questions are, we appreciate them. The girls pick up the apparent inconsistencies, unfairness and injustice that we the parents have become numb to over the years. When we parrot easy answers they see through them and they let us know they are not convinced. We hope that our valiant wading into them has helped form a beautiful and powerful backdrop to the gospel. The story of how terrible the fall was, its tragic consequences, the magnificent thing Jesus accomplished for us on the cross and the brightness of the hope of redemption, where everything shall be made right again.
One of the hard questions that could not be ignored is that of the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart. When God sent Moses to deliver the Israelites, he told him, not once but severally that He would harden the heart of the ruler of Egypt! The girls immediately picked on it and asked, “Why! Why did God pick on him? Did He hate Pharaoh?” In the amazing drama of Israel’s deliverance, plague unfolds after plague with intervals of Pharaoh relenting and then hardening his heart. We deferred the theological debate and homed in on what is clear to us and what we explained to the girls. Foretelling what would happen makes it clear, the difficult situation was known by God beforehand. Phraohs response, refusing to let the Israelites leave Egypt, would not come as a surprise to God. That is greatly comforting and would have assured the people that nothing would stand in the way of His plan. This points to His sovereignty over all things including evil.
The continuous flow of news of different tragedies this year has been likened to the plagues of Egypt coming fast and furious, one after the other. At such times it’s possible to be overwhelmed and feel as though evil has the upper hand and will overrun everything. It’s therefore comforting to read that God knew in advance, exactly what would happen. He knew Pharaoh would say no. This points to what Eugene Peterson called contained evil. The evil that has its paralysing grip on everyone is not a wild uncontrollable evil. Without being naive about it, we cannot be intimidated by it either. It’s not out of hand but within the control of a sovereign God.
This is the message that we need to hear and take to heart in this season. God is wholly and totally in control of our circumstances. God controls all things. There is nothing that is outside of God’s wise control. God’s sovereignty does not negate our responsibility. We must call out injustice, feed our neighbour and employ all our God-given talents for good. It, however, reassures us that we are not dealing with a universe that is hurtling out of control and into chaos, but there is someone in charge and we can trust Him. When God permits evil, we can trust He has planned to use it for His people’s good and His glory.
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