Back in the old days, when I parked my church registration with the Southern Baptists, I went to someone’s home on Wednesdays before work for a men’s get-together. They were studying a book about knowing God’s will and invited me to study along. Now the idea of figuring out what God wants you to do has always bothered me because I think the Bible is pretty clear about it. Take care of the poor and widows and prisoners and live humbly. This is shouted in Micah 6:8:
“‘You have already been told what is right and what Yahweh wants of you. Only this, to do what is right, to love loyalty and to walk humbly with your God.'”
So questions about what job to take or should you go the Christmas party at your mother’s or your in-laws are so ancillary to anything with Biblical meaning that they bothered me.
But I went anyway. I had a couple of friends there as well as a man that I couldn’t stand. Everyone called him Brother G. He was one of the OBGYNs in town and was very enthusiastic about his faith. He worked tirelessly on creating a small following around town and was revered by several men as someone who is completely sold out to his faith. I saw him as someone working harder to build a following than someone working with people who actually needed help. He directed all the men in his cadre to obtain their passports since they certainly wanted to be ready to go wherever God calls them to go. I frustrated a couple of the guys once by asking them what language they were learning. They were perplexed by my question. “Well, I said. “You’ve got passports. Should you be ready to go to Senegal or Bolivia or New York City? If the key is that you have to be ready for anything, then you should start learning now. Who knows where you will be called or what language they will speak?” This didn’t go over well.
One Wednesday, Brother G was being especially pious and told us that there are many times that he doesn’t know what to do when delivering a baby. I piped up, not able to let this comment go, and asked, “Don’t babies just deliver themselves most of the time? Obviously there are times of trouble and, it seems to me, that’s what you’re there for. I wouldn’t be at all happy if that’s when you decided to leave.” I wouldn’t envy any doctor in that position but he pissed me off when he told us what he does. “When things don’t go well,” he said, “I leave the room and find a place to pray. Sooner or later god will tell me what to do.” Then he smiled as if I was supposed to accept this overtly religious and silly answer. This is the kind of holy thing that holy men do and, once done, they bask in the holy glow.
I told him that I hoped he was kidding. His holy glow dimmed Immediately.
“You have a woman giving birth on a table. You’re charging her six months of mortgage payments to help pay for your med school education which is doing you no good right now. You leave her to go and figure out what to do by talking to the wall? I think that a ridiculous answer. I wouldn’t let my wife go to you after hearing that story. I pay you precisely for your expertise when something goes wrong.”
He stared at me like a deflated man. I had nary a drop of enthusiasm for the group after that. We broke up and went to work and I don’t think Brother G ever talked to me again.
A couple of weeks later, a friend who was at the Bible study came up to me after church. “Have you ever thought of attending another church?” he asked. “What? No. Why?” I was shocked and it was all I could stammer. He went on. “I’ve been thinking about what you said to
Brother G at the Bible study. He was right. When it comes to a point where he doesn’t know what to do, and if it were my wife, I would definitely want him to stop and pray. Wouldn’t you?”
My answer was less charitable. “I want him to know how to deliver a baby long before my wife is naked and drugged on the table.”
“I just don’t think that god can work in a church with people like you. I think that your doubt and lack of faith keep God from the church.”
I went on. “You’re telling me that I’m more powerful then god? Don’t you think I that’s ridiculous?”
But he didn’t. He encouraged me to find somewhere else to go to church. Somewhere else where I could stymie God’s work.
This story always reminds me of a Bible story recorded in The Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 19. A group of men, including a Jewish High Priest, were casting demons out of people in the name of Jesus and of St. Paul. One demon, once evoked, said, “Hey! I know this Jesus guy and I know who Paul is…but who the heck are you?”
13 But some itinerant Jewish exorcists too tried pronouncing the name of the Lord Jesus over people who were possessed by evil spirits; they used to say, ‘I adjure you by the Jesus whose spokesman is Paul.’ 14 Among those who did this were seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest. 15 The evil spirit replied, ‘Jesus I recognise, and Paul I know, but who are you?’ 16 and the man with the evil spirit hurled himself at them and overpowered first one and then another, and handled them so violently that they fled from that house stripped of clothing and badly mauled. 17 Everybody in Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks, heard about this episode; everyone was filled with awe, and the name of the Lord Jesus came to be held in great honour.
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