Be strong and courageous.
Do not be afraid;
do not be discouraged,
for the Lord your God will be with you
wherever you go.”
12 When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”13 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?
Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said,
‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”
There is a super uncomfortable question that always accompanies faith, if God is with us, why do we suffer? If God can save one person why isn’t God saving me or why didn’t God save my loved one? If we want a genuine relationship with God, we have to wrestle with this. My favorite professor in graduate school used to infuriate students with that question. They wanted to focus on miracle stories where people had been healed from cancer, or received a mysterious check exactly in the amount needed. Their faces would drop when he asked about the people in the same cancer ward who died despite constant prayers or the person who was overwhelmed by debt. He would warn us that people who receive the miracles have little need for a minister, it’s the people who feel their prayers are unanswered or unheard who will be needing counsel. A miracle for one person always causes a crisis of faith for another.
Gideon was the judge who replaced Deborah, a presumably interesting act to follow. The Israelites had again been conquered, this time by the Medianites who continually stole any crops and animals they were able to grow or find. The Israelites were forced to live in caves where they starved and cried out to God, they had hit rock bottom. Gideon was the youngest in his family and his clan was the weakest of the tribe of Manasseh and he was found to be the best to lead. One day an angel appears and tells him God is with him. Gideon’s response is one that could be shared by millions. He says, “oh really, then why are we suffering?” It’s easy to think that the dust of God’s presence brings us health, wealth and happiness. Gideon tells the angel that God has abandoned them. The angel tells him to take the little strength that he has left and fight against the Midianites. This skinny, weary, filthy and hopeless young man says he is going to need a sign. That night Gideon sets out a piece of wool and says that if he wakes up and finds the wool wet but the floor dry he will believe. In the morning, the floor is dry and Gideon wrings out a bowl’s worth of water from the fleece. Starting to warm up he requests the opposite for the next day: the fleece will be dry but the floor wet. The next morning he finds the fleece lying in a puddle yet is bone dry. Gideon knows God hasn’t abandoned him and that they Israelites will be victorious.
Questions of why are the toughest in a life of faith. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to ask God those questions directly, the answer could be terrifying and it’s so easy to interpret any silence as God’s absence or disregard towards us. “Go in the strength you have” is what God tells Gideon. Gideon has none, he can barely muster the energy to toss a chuck of wool on the floor. “Ruin this” he tells God, can’t be too tough, it seems like God has ruined everything. God does. “Fix it” Gideon then says, with eyes narrowed and God does. It’s small and insignificant yet, when we feel really beat up, small is the best place to start. We often look for God in the big things, the Red Sea types of events when really, God most often appears to us and speaks to us in the smallest of ways.