All the elderly man did was ask a reasonable question: “How can I be sure?”
It is a question deeply embedded in my heart too. As the rule-following, planning type who is afraid to make mistakes, I crave certainty. Sometimes, like Zechariah, I ask God how I can know for sure. More often, I set out to look for signs to confirm what has already been spoken to my soul. I make up my own criteria to test God. If the plane tickets are that price, then God wants me to take the trip. If the puppy that becomes available is a boy, then he is meant for our family. If that verse pops up in my life again soon, then I will know God is really speaking.
Zechariah was a married, childless priest near the end of his life when the angel Gabriel visited him to give him the message that he would become a father in his old age. Who can blame him for wanting more assurance about something that seemed impossible?
Yet Gabriel responds to Zechariah’s inquiry with a biblical phrase that makes me cringe. He says, “Since you didn’t believe, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born.” Since you didn’t believe. I hate this. I really do. The thought of God taking away an old priest’s voice just because he wanted more proof wrecks my heart. Everything in me screams in defense of poor Zechariah; I am inclined to label God as angry, unfair and completely unrealistic. I want to protest the punishment and throw up my hands in defeat under the premise that I will never have the amount of faith God expects.
But, when I let these feelings move through me, and stay with the story, they clear the way for new questions.
· How can I find what I know to be true about God, instead of what I fear to be true about Him, in this story?
· What if stories like these are less about God’s punishment and more about God’s promises?
· What do we do with the uncomfortable reality that God both gives and takes away?
These three questions inspire me during this Lenten season. They nudge me to fast from my inclination to put God in a familiar box. They challenge me to give up allowing my fears about the way He responds to our doubts and mistakes color the way I interpret hard stories like Zechariah’s and the events of my own life. Over the next 40 days, I will set out into the wilderness with these three questions in this group of posts titled When God Takes Away.