When the Thinker Decides to Kneel
You’re not trying to find every possible snag in the Bible—you’re just a strong reader, and you’re empathetic. You notice the difficult things, and they bother you.
You’re surrounded by cultural Christians who blitz through difficult passages without flinching. While they claim to believe the Bible is literal and true, they read with the emotional distance of a fiction novel. They fight passionately for the six days of creation because that story knocks down dominoes in the culture wars; but when an entire country gets slaughtered in the Old Testament--when a slave or woman is brutalized—when a nation sustains a plague because of one person’s sin--they smooth it over.
And if you express concern about a troubling story, they turn on you. They accuse you of “trying to be too smart” or you of “trying to play God.” They warn you about the dangers of thinking too much--as if you could turn off an internal switch and suddenly stop noticing.
We would never accuse a musician of bad motives when he notices a string out of tune, but deep thinkers who notice elements of Scripture that don’t seem to harmonize with the overall morality of the Bible are scolded.
That pressure is lonely. It’s also disorienting.
If you’ve lived through this, I’m sorry. I know what it’s like to notice the snags. I know what it’s like to be accused of bad motives when I couldn't help seeing or caring. I also know what it’s like to grow so exhausted from the struggle that you finally push the Bible away because you’re afraid of uncovering one more question that will bring pain and distance if you mention it.
This morning, I was trying to read Genesis 12. In this passage, God tells Abram that he is going to bless the entire world through A’s offspring. Next thing you know, Abram is traveling through Egypt where he gets nervous because his (65-year-old) wife is gorgeous (#seniorgoals). Abram thinks he’s going to be killed when the Egyptians see Sarai because they will want to steal her. So, he tells Sarai to tell everybody that she’s his sister. The Egyptians are duped, and they take Sarai into the palace. Suddenly the Egyptians get hit with a bunch of plagues. In fact, the Bible says the LORD inflicted those diseases on Pharaoh and his household because they took her.
Typical reading experience for me here. I hit that last bit and feel a huge wave of frustration. Abram was a coward and he lied. Sarah was misused. Pharoah and his household felt the consequences. Not fair. Still, Abram not only gets off the hook entirely, he gets a ton of riches from Pharaoh. What in the world?
At this point, some of you will be tempted to rush in and explain how the Abram narrative fits into the overall structure of Genesis. But I already know how the offspring of Sarai and Abram will eventually produce a Messiah who will bless the whole world. I know it would goof everything up if Sarai got pregnant by Pharaoh.
That explanation doesn’t make the ethical snag go away for someone like me, though--the collateral damage still hurts--especially when I see God inflicting diseases on people who had no idea what was happening.
What is a thinker supposed to do about this kind of problem? I have studied too much to throw the entire Christian faith away; I couldn't be an atheist and maintain any sort of intellectual honesty. But I’m also hurt that God did something that feels so unfair to the Egyptians. What now?
To answer that, I'm going to tell you about an image that has changed my approach to difficult Bible passages. It's so simple, it might not seem powerful at first. But over the past ten years or so, this has come to mean more and more to my restless mind. Ready? Here it is:
A.W. Tozer read Shakespeare on his knees.
This man was brilliant, yet, he still had the humility to learn with a physical posture that expressed need and dependence. As he chased the intellectual act of reading, he maintained a spiritual awareness that his mind couldn't do all the work--he needed God to be the giver of real wisdom and insight.
If that image feels foreign to you, don’t be surprised. You live in an era void of humility. You probably have no frame of reference for this sort of posture.
For example doesn't this line sound familiar to you lately? “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power...” (Daniel 4:20).
Nebuchanezzar bragged with these very words before being turned beastly by God, yet we could change the word "Babylon" to "America" and use the phrase for a campaign slogan in 2020.
By the tens of thousands, evangelicals cheer for such chest beating and self-promotion. The church loves bravado these days—excuses it, defends it, rallies behind it. Meekness, goodness, gentleness, patience, love have no visible role in our political-religious spectrum.
Can you even imagine a major evangelical leader kneeling humbly to pray? I certainly can’t fathom it. The church is drunk on flexing its muscles, abandoning public confessions of dependent weakness.
But once upon a time, long, long ago--in a land far, far away--A.W. Tozer read Shakespeare on his knees.
Maybe you’ve seen atheists get impatient with Biblical complexities, storming off and assuming that a complicated God is either cruel or fake. But atheists are not alone in such proud, rash behavior. Many Christians aren’t willing to crawl down off their platforms to find a place to kneel.
Thinking friends, even as you read this post, doesn’t something inside you crave this ancient, beautiful, counter-cultural posture? Look at how Psalm 95 connects the act of kneeling with an acknowledgement that we are as dependent as sheep upon their shepherd? The physical act and the spiritual act are one here. The psalmist wasn’t ashamed of urging God’s people to bow before their Lord because he knew what this physical act could do inside of us.
"O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our maker. For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand."
This practice isn’t relegated to the Old Testament. In the New Testament kneeling is taught as common practice among the early believers. And one day, every knee will bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth.
Luke 22:41 And he withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and knelt down and prayed. (Jesus)
Ephesians 3:14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father. (Paul)
Acts 20:36 And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. (Paul)
Philippians 2:10 So that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
So if you are a thinker, instead of trying to turn off your questions, I want to encourage you to kneel through them. Don't feel ashamed. Just find a room where you can get some privacy. Kneel before your God—not just in spirit, but with your whole body. (Sometimes I put a blanket over my head because I have a little bit of ADD, and the closed space helps me focus.)
In that privacy, let your bodily posture reflect your appeal to the Lord, and then say to him, “Help me. This passage is hard. You told me to care about people, and here are people hurting. Guide me through this.”
When I did that this morning, I started to get some clarity within minutes. Something about a physical posture that expressed need and trust instantly settled my impulses to try to fix the snag myself. I felt that I was making room for a sincere question before a God who loved me and who could handle it. It also reminded me that it was okay to be the responder, the requester, and the dependent because God is the pursuer, the giver of Truth, and the provider.
Kneeling also reorients the expectations human government has placed upon me. As much as I love my democratic republic, I also know that it’s only ideal because humans sin. The perfect government is a theocracy—which can only function perfectly under the rule of a holy King. Caught in this double reality, I have to do some mental work when switching from an American mindset to prayer. A divine leader can be trusted to lovingly withhold answers for a good purpose, if he chooses to do so. That’s an uncomfortable leap for most Americans.
After my time of kneeling prayer, I did more technical research and found more answers to the Genesis 12 dilemma. But you know what’s even more interesting than those answers? It’s now almost noon, and my whole body still feels the effects of those moments spent kneeling.
Why? Because kneeling is about more than finding one answer to one question. It’s about aligning ourselves inside of the community of a God who is actually alive.