Saturday, January 16, 2016

Have you come to take away our souls?

Have you ever prayed to the Lord and asked Him to show you something… anything… beyond any shadow of any doubt... just so you can be sure?

I have... I still do... some times, some days...

My husband and I have often discussed this. He rarely doubts God, rarely questions if He is true, if He is good, if Jesus is Who He says He is and really did come and do what the Scriptures say He did. I, on the other hand, struggle with doubt more often than I care to admit.

In John 10.24, Jesus spoke to a group gathered around Him, Jews who had come to the temple for the Festival of Dedication. Today more commonly called Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights, was not one of the original commemoration ceremonies instituted by God. Rather, it was/is a remembrance – according to rabbinic tradition – of a very specific provision by God. At the same time, it recalls what could seem to some an “inconsequential in the grand scheme of things” miracle. Historically this miracle took place in the time between the Old and New Testaments: Seleucid king Antiochus Ephiphanes desecrated the Jewish temple, forcing the Jews to abandon God’s prescribed system of worship and sacrifices. God's chosen people were obliged to adopt pagan rituals until the Maccabees (a group of Jewish freedom fighters) refused, rose up and overthrew the Seleucids. Once the Jews had regained access to the temple, they found a single, small, sealed jug of olive oil that had not been profaned and was, thus, acceptable for use in worship. They used this oil to light the temple menorah, expecting the oil to suffice for only a single day; miraculously, it endured for eight - the amount of time needed for more oil to be made ready. Thus, the Jews gathered around Jesus were in Jerusalem celebrating and remembering miraculous provision.

Not only that, but they had gathered in a location where God had traditionally accomplished great things (Matthew Henry), Solomon's Colonnade. 

At such a place, for such a purpose, at such a time, the Jews listened… and then confronted... Jesus. Standing in the presence of the most miraculous of all provisions, the Messiah of the World, in a place where the evidence of God’s hand had been so clearly present, the Jews asked Jesus a rather blunt question.

Most commentators suppose that the primary goal of this question was to waylay Him.

Look at some of the different renditions/translations of their question:
  • “…and said unto him, how long dost thou make us doubt?” (Gill)
  • “how long dost thou take away our soul?” as per the Vulgate Latin, Syriac, Persic, and Ethiopic versions 
  • “wherefore dost thou steal away our minds with words?” (Nonnus)

The Jews charge Christ with taking away their souls, or stealing away their hearts by hiding Himself from them. Strong words.

I find I can often easily identify with the Jews in this passage. Some days, I start with worship - thinking about God. But then my thoughts migrate. I start trying to figure Him out, trying to make Him make sense-according-to-me. Overwhelmed by the enormity and awesomeness and power of the God I want to believe in, I look for answers that make sense… and then I start coming up with reasonings to try and make all of the puzzle pieces fit together. Eventually, I start doubting and asking questions like:
  • What if man really has made all of this up out of desperation for something beyond this life?
  • What if there really isn't a God? I think I've seen evidence of Him, but what if I'm only seeing what I want to see?
  •  What if Jesus wasn't anything more than a good man but deluded teacher?
  •  What if the Bible isn't inspired and is nothing more than a creative, enticing fabrication created by those who wanted for themselves and others a real purpose in life?
  • What if this life is all there is and then there is nothing?
  • What if I'm hoping for heaven and eternity... and there isn't?

The problem with asking these questions is: How do I EVER really answer them.

And even if I did have clear, unquestionable answers, wouldn’t that negate the idea that humankind is made up of moral agents with free will to choose what we believe? Wouldn’t that call into question the very premise that we are, in any way, different from the rest of creation?

There really aren't any answers other than to confess, once again, my sin of unbelief - to cry out in desperation, "Lord, I believe! Help Thou my unbelief!"

All of the Sunday School analogies I've learned through nearly 50 years of life all fall short. How can a finite mind comprehend an infinite God? The obvious answer is that man can't. I can't.

And that's what faith is all about. Faith is believing that a miraculous synergism between God's empowering grace to believe and man's choice to trust in that belief occurs, regardless of how things look or how well it all makes sense... 

Repeatedly, I must choose to leap and trust that God will be there to catch me - even on the doubting days when I can't see or feel Him. I must live every day as though He were walking next to me, even when I don't really feel like He is there. I must choose be okay with knowing that the moment I'll know for sure will be that moment when I take my final breath on this earth.

"Tell us, tell me, plainly... Have you come to take away our souls?"

The answer to that question is that Jesus came to deliver life back to my soul, your soul, every single one's soul...

 Just as those today who fear making that leap of faith and trusting Jesus... just as those who fear that a life spent following Jesus is only a life wasted because this life is all they have... these Jews accused Jesus of stealing from them the very gift He offered and longed for them to take. Jesus' response to this question was that He'd already plainly told them. He was not the thief, coming to seek and destroy - go back and read the first part of John 10, in case you've forgotten what He'd just taught.

As I begin yet another new year, I am, once again, also trusting that God will use this continual tension in my life… in my faith walk… to encourage and minister to a few others somewhere along the way. Who knows? Maybe that will be the very answer to my "Lord, I believe! Help Thou my unbelief!" prayer.

Were there some in that crowd of Jews that day who then believed?

How about you, today? What do you believe about Jesus?

How can you encourage someone around you keep on making that leap of faith toward the Christ, regardless…?


  1. Thank you for sharing this, Richelle! My husband, like yours, never seems to have any doubts about God or who he says He is, and I on the other hand, have times like you describe. I remember years ago finding it so freeing to know that there were plenty of strong believers who have times and seasons of doubt. I am also so thankful that God is always faithful and can stand up to any sort of question that we could possibly come up with. It is great that you have shared this here. I too have prayed and love that it is modeled in God's word to pray, "Lord, I believe! Help me in my unbelief!"