Why doesn’t God make His truths more obvious? People ask this all the time in one way or another. “Why doesn’t God reveal Himself to me so that I can believe in Him?” “Why do all the churches believe different things? Can’t God make His written word clear enough so that we’ll all know what it means?” A friend recently asked, “If God really will save all people in the end, why is He doing such a lousy job of selling that doctrine?” Jesus told this story about truths and lies, I believe, at least partially to address that question:
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while people were sleeping, his enemy came, sowed tares among the wheat, and left. When the plants sprouted and produced grain, then the tares also appeared. The landowner’s slaves came to him and said, ‘Master, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Then where did the tares come from?’
“‘An enemy did this!’ he told them. “‘So, do you want us to go and gather them up?’ the slaves asked him. “‘No,’ he said. ‘When you gather up the tares, you might also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At harvest time I’ll tell the reapers: Gather the tares first and tie them in bundles to burn them, but store the wheat in my barn.'” (Mat 13:24-30 HCSB)
Before I elaborate on this story, I want to point out that God works with people in an incremental way. Think about your own children, or yourself as a child. A baby, sweet as she is, is utterly selfish. She wants what she wants and she wants it NOW! It doesn’t matter if Mommy and Daddy are dead tired. Her tummy hurts and she will scream until something happens to make it stop. She doesn’t even think about Mommy and Daddy as anything other than a warm, comforting presence. As she grows, though, this begins to change. Gradually she begins to understand the separateness between her self and other selves. She begins to care if Mommy is sad. Pleasing Daddy becomes important to her. Little by little she learns to be more human (in a good way), we hope. Some people don’t seem to make a lot of progress, but most of us do grow up at least a little bit.
Paul had this to say to the Athenian philosophers at the Areopagus:
And He made from one blood every nation of men to dwell upon all the face of the earth, and He ordained their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, in order for them to seek the Lord, if perhaps indeed they might grope for Him and find Him, and yet being indeed not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ (Act 17:26-28 EMTV) (the underlining is mine.)
What if God did this for a reason; that this is quite simply the way we have to learn. Children learn by groping about after the truth. They try things until they find something that works. If they can’t get to their feet on their own, they’ll pull themselves up by grabbing on to something — like the dog. If the dog walks (or runs) away, next time they’ll go for the coffee table because they’ve discovered that it more or less stands still. What if we truly do have to grope around and seek God in order to learn to know Him? What if Paul was right about that?
That’s where the wheat and the tares come in. The atheist or the Christian asks, “Why can’t I find God? Why doesn’t He make His doctrine more obvious?” Or in my friend’s case, why God has allowed the church to miss the very scriptural doctrine of universal reconciliation through Christ.
After the day’s preaching, sitting around the campfire toasting, um, locusts maybe, one of the disciples plucked up his courage to ask Jesus what the parable meant. They didn’t know either. Jesus said that the wheat represented the sons of the kingdom and the tares represented the sons of the wicked one. Now you can interpret these sons as people and I think you would have a point, but Jesus’ parables are known for nuance. As simple as they seem, people — highly educated, dedicated disciples of Jesus — have been chewing on His parables for at least 2000 years and coming up with all sorts of interpretations.
If you look back a little bit, you’ll see that Jesus told the Pharisees (after He called THEM sons of the devil) that the devil was the father of lies. I see an application here for this parable. Why have so many lies been allowed to grow for so long amongst the truths of the gospel of Christ Jesus?
Sowing a field with tares was an act of war. It deprived your enemies of food, or it sickened and killed your enemies by their food. Tares are typically infected with a fungus that produces symptoms of intoxication and often causes death. Why would God allow His field to be sown with tares? These tares have intoxicated and killed the church’s people and leadership — and its witness — for so many, many years. The idea that God is willing for most of his created people to burn forever in hell, is I believe, one of those tares.
I don’t know why He refused to have the tares uprooted from the beginning, but might it have something to do with our feeling around and learning what was NOT good and finding the thing that IS good? You never ever know your lessons by learning them from a lecture or a book in the depth that you CAN know them by finding out their truthfulness from experience. Darnel (the modern name for tares) is bad for wheat; it robs moisture and nutrients and severely reduces crop yield. It’s good to avoid having the field sown with darnel. BUT wheat is sown by broadcasting, and it wouldn’t be easy (or possible?) to go tramping around pulling up the darnel and NOT hurting the wheat. Besides, until the harvest time comes, it’s almost impossible to tell them apart.
We’ve seen the church let go of toxic ideas before. When was the last time someone tried to sell you an indulgence? Have you burned any witches lately? Tortured any heretics? We don’t do that any more because it doesn’t work with Jesus’ teachings of love toward all, including our enemies. Jesus told us to love our enemies so that we would be LIKE our Father in heaven, who is love. We know what LOVE is because Paul gave us a magnificent description in 1 Corinthians 13. Read it. That’s what God is like. That’s the standard. That’s the Father we’re groping around, trying to find — yet He isn’t far from any of us since in Him we live and move and have our being. All of us.
I suppose He could have taken us tiny children by the hand out into the wheat field and said, “This is wheat. See how the spikes are thicker and the spikelets are oriented with the flat side to the rachis and have two glumes? This is a tare. The spikes are thinner, and the spikelets are oriented edgeways to the rachis and have only a single glume.” But would we understand what He was talking about? I don’t understand what the Wikipedia writer was saying here either, and likewise the church needs a certain level of maturity to be able to separate the wheat from the darnel.
To make matters worse, when the harvest comes, the grain looks like wheat too — only it’s BLACK wheat. You know, hungry people will eat it anyway. Once. Unless they’ve seen what it does to other people who’ve eaten it.
Has the church been trying to pass off black “wheat” on the world for so many years that we think that’s what it’s SUPPOSED to look like? We don’t even want to eat the stuff ourselves. It makes us feel sick unto death, thinking about the hell doctrine, but we’ve been told it’s wheat. Who are we to answer back to God? Or maybe we should be more careful to notice just WHO has been telling us to eat this poisonous black “wheat.” MAYBE an enemy has done this.
What if our punishment for being ABLE to believe in eternal conscious torment . . . is to BELIEVE in eternal conscious torment? (paraphrased from George MacDonald) I said to my friend that I think none of this surprises God. He knew we would have to grope around to find the truth about His mercy and His justice. We really are in the dark in so many ways, learning to see the light of His love. It takes time, but Father is not in a hurry. It takes as long as it takes. As we seek Him, we will find Him when we search for Him with all our hearts. And He delights to be found by His beloved children — by all of His beloved children. Even those wandering farthest afield in the darkness, still live and move and have their being in Him.