Sunday, October 09, 2005

Robbing God, and a Promise Unfulfilled

I took Missy to church with me this morning, taking advantage of the rare opportunity to do so since I have been going every weekend to be with Mrs. Zeke and my mom in Arizona, where my wife has been caring for her the last couple of months. I had a feeling during our drive to the church that it wouldn't be a typical service, but I didn't know what to expect. Turns out it couldn't have been more difficult.

It was all about money. About how it all belongs to God, and you're stealing it if you don't send at least 10% back into the "storehouse," which is the general account of your local church. And the New Testament doesn't get you off the hook; now we should be providing our full tithe plus giving beyond that. But there's good news: whatever you give, God will give back more! Pressed down and running over. That's the promise, straight from the Bible. See Malachi 3.

So, as I sat there in the pew, knowing that the plate was going to be coming at me, all I could muster up was equal amounts of shame and anger. Shame at not putting in my full 10%, anger because there was a time when Mrs. Zeke and I gave way beyond our full 10%. We gave in a big and dramatic way several times, and in lesser ways many other times. We also gave to neighbors and family. We bought computers for those that needed them, provided food and shelter to a family for over a year asking for nothing in return. Took in desperate women. help pay others' legal bills. What followed was a desperate financial crisis, and there I was this morning sitting in the pew with not enough money to make it to the next paycheck, and I was being told about how I was robbing God. So I was angry. Damned straight I was.

What good is a promise to be paid back if it doesn't have a due date? When you loan someone money, is it with the understanding that they will pay you back in some way, at some time? Let's say, five years after loaning a man $50,000 with no attempt to pay you back, the man comes to you and tries to explain that he's been paying you back ever since "in other ways that you haven't seen." Will that satisfy?

I promise you, not a red cent was given by Mrs. Zeke and me with the expectation that it was going to be returned with interest. But that's beside the point. The point is that I was given a personal promise in Scripture that it would come back. I'm still waiting. And in the meantime, I've become a God-robber. Fan-freaking-tastic, is how I'm feeling.

Yes, he's God and I am a whiny little child who just doesn't understand. Yeah, I've probably received more than my due since then in other ways... illnesses that could have been worse, finding some work when there could have been none, etc. etc. But the fact remains that Mrs. Zeke and I loved to give. And want to give more. We just don't have it.

So that's where the shame comes in. I'm ashamed that I can't give more, haven't given more, to both my church and my family. And if the pastor hadn't pointed out repeatedly that "You can't outgive God! Test him! Test him and see!", then I would just be ashamed and left it at that. But he drummed in the promise, and I wanted to stand up and say that if you do give abundantly, you might have to wait five years or more before the promise is paid off.

Part of me thinks that God has made a liar of himself. Another part thinks that this is just what a stupid, selfish little brat would say. Another part of me hears Mrs. Zeke telling me to count our blessings as a family, which actually isn't hard to do. But money isn't one of the blessings, and nobody's accusing me of robbing love or time from God. The church is presenting me with a bill, and I feel like I can't make the payments because God is behind on his payments to me.

I know how screwed up that thinking is, you don't have to tell me. And you especially don't have to smooth my feathers and tell me it will all be better. And please--whatever you do--don't go quoting Malachi to me.

So, like the Psalmist with nothing but honesty and openness about where I am at, I ask you, God: when will you fulfill your promise to me? How much longer do I have to wait?


At 7:36 AM, Blogger A. Truth said...

this is exactly why i always tuned out at church. i figured out pretty quickly (at about age 8 or so) that things were not set up so nicely in the church, and that it was a big business like any other business around. there are certain things that i still believe, but overall, i've let a lot of my religiousness go. it's really liberating.

At 8:45 AM, Blogger Zeke said...

For the record, I believe in giving. I was just being human here... you were seeing the inside of my heart about it. I'm pissed that I'm broke, and that I've not paid the full tithe, and that God hasn't (to my human eyes) kept his promise. And I don't know what to make of it all other than to just let it out.


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