‘What is that in your hand?’

“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” (2 Peter 1:3-4)

“Moses answered, ‘What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, “The Lord did not appear to you”? Then the Lord said to him, ‘What is that in your hand?’” (Exodus 4:1-2)

Whenever I happen upon some theological debate online with blogger pitted against a host of contrary commenters, I think of that Avril Lavigne song my daughters used to listen to: “Why’d you have to go and make things so complicated?”

As the verses at the top of the post suggest, you don’t need to. “His divine power has given us” what we need. It’s already available. It’s the same type of already-accomplished-fact behind the Lord’s declaration to his people in the wilderness, “See, I have given you this land” (Deut 1:8).

“For life and godliness,” for “participat[ing] in the divine nature” and “escaping corruption in the world”–and from where I sit that covers a lot of ground–we don’t need to settle every dispute over doctrine or solve every stubborn paradox.

Debates over free will vs. predestination or works vs. faith, to cite just two examples, have been going on for centuries. If we had to wait for them to be settled, every one of us would die in the wilderness. But discipleship takes place in the present tense.

Disputes like this are a continuation of the kind of medieval scholasticism reserved for prelates and priests almost exclusively.

And as if the subject matter wasn’t arcane enough, the disputations (e.g., between Luther and his critics) were conducted in Latin lest some impudent fishmonger should try to put in his two cents (or pfennigs, since this was Saxony) from the gallery. When a religious movement with half a dozen Galilean fishermen as apostles has ascended into an ivory tower, it’s time to think about what went wrong.

If you go all the way back to the Garden, we have always had “the knowledge of good and evil” through his word. Making that one tree off limits was hardly a grievous imposition. Yet what was alluring about it was the possibility of becoming “like God” (Gen 3:5), as if God was denying you something irresistibly essential for life. The rest, as they say, is history.

I became a Christian as a freshman at the Johns Hopkins University 44 years ago. Over the subsequent 3-4 years, I wrestled with intellectual doubts about the reliability of Scripture, the goodness of God and the credibility of the church. Yet as much as I wrestled, studied and sought answers, the Bible remained mostly a closed book to me. And I was a literature major studying and analyzing texts every day.

My real problem, as I learned later, was a problem of the will. The real issue to be decided was whether or not I was going to be identified with Jesus Christ and his gospel regardless of the cost or just continue to straddle two worlds.

The prophet Elijah had a phrase for that, and he presented it as a choice for the people: “’How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal [i.e., god of prosperity and success] is God, follow him.’

“But the people said nothing” (1 Ki 17:21).

If you’re wavering between two opinions, as I was, you don’t have strong convictions–by definition. And persons without strong convictions don’t have much to say.

He has given us what we need for the present tense. Just as the Lord asked Moses, “What is that in your hand?” when Moses doubted the people would listen to him (Ex 4:1-2), he is asking you simply to take what you have and trust that he will do something extraordinary with it. The next step is yours.

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