Two Questions - Geneva College, a Christian College in Pennsylvania (PA)

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Faith
October 8, 2015

Two Questions

A week after moving here, I signed up at the Y in New Brighton, so I could swim. The woman behind the counter said, “Are you the new President of Geneva?” Next morning in the pool the young man in the next lane said, “Are you Bill Edgar?” “Yes.” “I guess I’m known here,” I thought.

Second day I was here, I drove through Beaver Falls at 8 p.m., and the whole string of lights turned red! When they turned green, I stepped hard on the gas and said, “I wonder how fast you’d have to go to…?” From the back seat, Daniel (class of 2013) said, “Dad, don’t!” I glanced at my wife—and didn’t. So my first week here, I faced a new temptation and discovered I was known. That’s my talk today, temptation and being known.

You’ll notice that in the stories I just told, questions turned up. “Are you…?” and “I wonder how fast?” The history of the human race begins with two questions. Each question is four words long. One promises freedom, but brings sorrow. The other unsettles us, but brings healing. Satan asks the first question. God asks the second.

Satan first! “Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, ‘Yea, hath God said?’ (Genesis 3:1).” That old King James translation, “Yea, hath God said?” gets the feel of Satan’s question exactly right. It insinuates in an oily pretend friendly fashion that God is unreasonable, unfair, and is against the woman’s natural freedom. While pretending to quote God, Satan, who can look like an angel of light, lied. “Yea, hath God said, ‘Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?’” The woman replied with her own slight misquotation, saying they could eat from all of the trees of the garden, except one, which they weren’t to eat from or touch, or they would die. The “or touch” addition hints she was ready to consider the idea that God was unreasonable.

Then Satan came in for the kill: “God lied to you. He wants to deny you freedom and power because He is selfish. You won’t die. Eat, and you’ll be like God, knowing good and evil.” The woman believed her new friend. She ate, gave to her husband with her, and he ate. Then they were afraid and hid from God.

Consider that first question ever asked. You have heard it yourselves, sometimes even quoting God correctly, but with a tone suggesting that God is unreasonable. “Did God really say, ‘You shall love your enemies?’ Really? My enemies?” “Did God really say, ‘In everything give thanks.’” Really? I just lost my job. “Did God really say, ‘No sex outside of marriage?’” Really? And you know when those questions entice us! When a real enemy has really hurt us, when life has turned sour, when our hormones are engaged and we don’t want to exercise restraint, we hear, “Did God really say?” We can’t escape that question -- from friends, from the media, from books, and most dangerously of all, from inside our own heads.

The question subtly—or openly—attacks God, undermining our confidence in His goodness. It sets us up for the kill, when the follow up assertion comes: “God is unfair. You will be happier if you disregard Him. Don’t be afraid of His threats. They won’t come true.” And often the reminder, “Nothing happened last time you ignored His Word,” as we forget that God is patient, giving us time to wise up.

Perhaps you think, “But this is a Christian college. I won’t hear Satan’s voice here.” Wrong! Remember: the man and the woman were in a Garden, meaning that walls surrounded it. Many of you were raised in Christian families. There was a wall around you. You’re at a Christian College. There is a wall around you.

Because there was a wall around the Garden in Eden, Satan had to proceed cautiously, with a question. “Just asking, woman. Did God really say?” Outside the Garden, Satan can be more direct. There he is a lion or a dragon. But inside, he must be subtle, like an angel of light, offering friendship and advice. “Did God really say?” When you hear that question, remember who’s asking it. He is not your friend.

Satan asks the first question in our history. Who asks the second one? God Himself! In the first hint of the Gospel of peace, God called to Adam, “Where are you?” God would not allow the man and woman to hide from Him. He would not allow them to remain friends with the serpent. In fact, God soon declared war on the serpent, promising, “the seed of this woman whom you have deceived will crush your head.” That is the second hint of good news amidst disaster, found in Genesis 3:15. But the first hint is God’s call to Adam in Genesis 3:9: “Adam, where are you?”

Every one of us has also heard that question: “Where are you?” We can’t escape it because in God “we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28).” The very heavens above declare the glory of God. “Caleb, where are you?” “Abigail, where are you?”

After my wife Gretchen bowed before her Lord Jesus, she remembered that God had called to her many times before she answered. (By the way, she has given me permission to tell these stories.) At a summer job, the hotel owner said to her, “You’re bitter.” She denied it mentally. “I’m not bitter. I’m a good person, and good people are not bitter.” But in that comment she could have heard, had she been listening, the question, “Gretchen, where are you?”

At her next summer job, a seriously Catholic co-worker said to her, “You’re angry. You need God.” Gretchen knew she was angry: at her divorced parents, at her bullying brother, at her abusive mother. Her co-worker said, “You need God.” There it was again. “Gretchen, where are you?”

Later that summer, my brother who knew her from college, invited her to work in the kitchen at White Lake Camp. Everyone knew she was not a believer. Everyone was kind to her. One day a tough tomboy of fourteen from Boston, who slept in the same cabin, came to Gretchen in tears. “Is it true you’re not a Christian?” Tears break hearts that sledgehammers can’t touch. Gretchen told her it was true. More tears, and Gretchen knew she was crying for her. “Gretchen, where are you?”

The camp speaker that year was Sam Boyle, the greatest RP missionary of the twentieth century, first in China and then in Japan. Sam spoke on the philosophy of existentialism and Christian faith, explaining why there is no lasting answer for the human condition in existentialism. His talks were not the fundamentalist anti-intellectual caricature Gretchen took for Christianity. “Gretchen, where are you?”

After we returned to school, Gretchen and I studied together in the library. We had endless arguments about the truth of the Gospel. I would leave thinking I had gotten nowhere. Unknown to me, Gretchen would go back to her dorm and try out my arguments on her roommate, who faithfully gave back to Gretchen her own responses to me. Throughout the fall of 1967, those answers began to sound thinner and thinner to Gretchen. “Gretchen, where are you?”

Over Christmas break, she read the Gospel of Mark, as I had urged, saying, “In the end you have to deal with Jesus, not me.” In the Gospel according to Mark, Gretchen met Jesus, the real Jesus, the historical Jesus—the Lord Jesus. He was not like other teachers she knew. This was not Kahlil Gibran or Erich Fromm, 1960s gurus for muddled college students. Jesus spoke—and acted—with authority! And the question, “Gretchen, where are you?” became a command. “Gretchen, follow me.” She did not want to, but her excuses were failing her.

Finally, Gretchen wrote up her philosophy of life for me. We discussed it. Actually, I did to it what she had been trying to do with my Christian faith: discredit it completely. Gretchen went back to her dorm realizing the truth: She had nothing; her hands were empty.

A few days later, we sat together in a dorm lounge. “Any further questions?” “No.” “Any further objections?” “No.” “Are you ready to bow to Jesus Christ?” She did not want to, but Jesus left her no other choice. She knew rejecting Him would mean hell now and hell forever. So there, in a Swarthmore College dorm lounge, she prayed to God, and then, as she says, went into a corner and sulked. She would be a Christian, but she didn’t have to like it. When she later read the English writer C.S. Lewis’ description of his own conversion—“dragged kicking and screaming into the kingdom of God”—she said, “That was what it felt like for me.” Someone else I know described her conversion as a train wreck.

Adam came when God called. It was not a fun interview. God had hard words for the man and woman: lives of pain and frustrating work, and then they would return to the dust from whence they came. Then God turned to the serpent. There would be war between the friends of the snake and the children of the woman. The snake would lose. A son of the woman would come and crush the head of the serpent, liberating all whom God calls. “God called to Adam, ‘Where are you?’” He called to Gretchen, “Where are you?” He calls to you. “Geneva student, where are you?” “Geneva professor, where are you?” God’s call brings healing. Malachi 4:2 "But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture.”

In December of 1968, about a year later, our pastor Harold Harrington baptized Gretchen “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, one God over all, blessed forever.” She began communing with Christ and His People in the Lord’s Supper—“Eucharist” to some of you. We got married the next June.

Gretchen’s big fear was that if she became a Christian, God would make her become a missionary. He did! In 1970, we went to the island of Cyprus, missionaries until war sent us home in 1974 after our city of Famagusta was bombed. We fled as refugees with our first child, one and a half years old, and our second child still in the womb. Cyprus remains very important in out lives to this day. Being a missionary was good for Gretchen. It was good for me. As time passed, Gretchen came to love being a follower of Jesus, to love Christ. He has done her no wrong.

What about you? Have you heard God’s question, “Where are you?” I know you have. No one escapes God’s witness about Himself. His question may make you uneasy, even fearful. But you must answer when God calls! Even Lazarus answered from beyond the grave, so you can never think that you are too far away from God to answer. Say this: “Speak, Lord. I am listening.” You will find peace and healing, along with sacrifice and trouble.

All your days, you will also hear another voice saying, “Yea, hath God said?” It sounds friendly. It promises freedom. But it lies. Which question will you listen to? Whom will you listen to? There is nothing more important in your life than how you respond to the first two questions ever asked: “Did God really say?” and “Man, woman, where are you?”

Dr. William Edgar, Interim President


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