By Summer Lee Carlson
As a consequence of spending childhood in church, my memories are filled with felt boards, puppet shows and substitute “Halloween” parties in which one dressed as a Bible character or animal from Noah’s ark. The recurring theme of those felt boards and Sunday school lessons were usually centered on the men and women of God who accomplished miraculous feats and were the main characters of colorful stories.
As I grew older the theme still focused on those men and women, while adding the element of self-focus. How as “I” doing in relation to those men and women? How was “I” measuring up? Innumerable sermons were given in which Pastors and various speakers tried to make these Biblical characters seem more “human” as they would add their own voices to them by stating things like, “And then Abraham said Dude, you’re asking me to give up my son?”
I must admit I was annoyed by that. There is no way to really know the personalities of those Bible characters or their deepest thoughts, beyond the occasional glimpses provided by the emotional writings of Jeremiah and David. And while I realize attempts to surmise the thoughts of these men and women were done so that we could relate to people whose greatness seemed so impossible and untouchable, I think this may have done more harm than good.
Instead of growing up realizing how extraordinary the God inside of these men and women were, I was faced with the idea that “I” must be extraordinary in order to be used by Him. The truth is these characters were messy and sometimes they did downright disgusting, terrible and rather weak, faithless things! Abraham, one of the forefathers of our faith, tried to pawn his wife off as his sister in fear of being killed by a king named Abimelech, who he thought might take her for his own. And this was After he decided to do an incredibly faith-filled act of taking off with everything he owned-without direction-just because God told him (Hebrews 11: 8-10).
This leads me to believe that even someone as faithful as Abraham had unstable moments. Let us not forget that at the insistence of Sarah he also slept with her maidservant in an attempt to have a son. And we often skip the most embarrassing portions. Lot was saved by God because of the “righteousness” mentioned in 2 Peter 2:7 and yet a few days after this allowed his daughters to get him drunk and then sleep with him so they could bear offspring. That’s not exactly inspiring material.
History beyond the Bible goes on to prove that while men and women are capable of being the vessels for extraordinary things, we are also always quite capable of carrying out evil. I remember being terrified in one of my Bible College courses in which the history of the college’s denomination was outlined through student presentations. We were asked to choose a leader who had done “great” things and then discuss their lives. Ninety percent of those leaders ended their lives in complete disarray, succumbing to alcoholism, adultery, and heresy-among other things. And these were people who had records of healings, spoke to crowds of thousands and did “good” things.
The truth is that none of the people we read about in the Bible or in history, who accomplished such amazing things or lived lives of seemingly impossible faith, did so because of who they were or what they were made of. They did so because an extraordinary God lived inside of them. I honestly do not believe God chose them based on their various character qualities or because they proved themselves worthy. “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things-and the things that are not-to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” (1st Corinthians 1:27-29).
I distinctly remember sitting at the altar of that same Bible College one night, lamenting my inability to live up to the people I admired so much. As I mentally browsed the list of terrible things about my character God entered my thoughts and asked who I was specifically enamored with at the moment. So I switched to listing various names like, “David, Smith Wigglesworth, Abraham, my College President, etc.” To which he responded with, “The same God who lived in them is the same God who lives in you.” And it was then I finally started to grasp that it had nothing to do with those people and my admiration was sorely misplaced. When God asked those men and women to do something it had little to do with “who” he was asking, and had everything to do with who was asking them.
I am not justifying terrible behavior, or saying we shouldn’t live as Christ lived, or do whatever we want to do. But I do believe that if those who claim to follow Christ, could accomplish one thing, it would be the only thing worth accomplishing. If we could stop putting the focus on ourselves or those who have gone before us, and simply focus on really seeking Him, perhaps we would find that the most extraordinary, God Himself, is actually present in our lives (which is really the most miraculous thing of all). The truth is that none of those men and women sat around thinking up ways to live out and become amazing people. They were simply people who grasped that an extraordinary God wanted to share His thoughts, chose to listen when He spoke and were willing to be the conduits for what He asked.
We are messy and the people who lived before us, including the most famous of Bible characters, were messy. The sooner we admit it the better. As long as we are on this earth we are always going to be capable of greatness for the kingdom and for evil. A person may be used by God to accomplish the miraculous in one month, and then, perhaps in the foolish belief that they are special, step out on their own and find themselves carrying out evil. This does not lessen what God accomplishes but has everything to say about the frailty of humanity. In the Torah studies created by First Fruits of Zion the commentators constantly say one thing, “We are ordinary people being led and used by an extraordinary God.” And I believe that is the most inspiring part of every one of those stories and the stories yet to come.
Summer is a bewildered 24-year-old who recently graduated from college and still feels like she’s playing “dress up” with the grownups downtown at work.