Is God Having a Joke With You?

Playdough calves, Playmobil and the worst excuse in the Bible.

What’s the worst excuse you’ve ever given in your life?

Here’s some advice: if your brother goes up a mountain to communicate directly with the God who has brought you out of slavery, and you give in to intense pressure to fashion a new god to worship, and even build an altar before it (Exodus 32:5), don’t say this:

For they said to me, ‘Make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’

And whatever you do, don’t go on to say this:

So I said to them, ‘Let any who have gold take it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.

Aaron is the great spokesman for Moses, who speaks to Pharaoh on behalf of the LORD. And the best he can come up with is ‘I threw the gold in the fire, and the calf just came out.’ Wow. Really?

I reflected on this comedy moment in a conversation I had with Andy Bannister over on my YouTube channel under a short series of videos called The Sacred Art of Joking. In the introduction of that show, I say that if you’re not finding any of the Bible funny, you’re not taking it seriously.

One question I ask my guests is whether they can think of a time when they felt God was having a joke with them. I had one of those moments on Sunday. Read on.

The Set Up

Here’s the backdrop for this moment: I’ve been campaigning for re-election to the House of Laity in General Synod on behalf of Bath and Wells. In my election address, I stressed my passion for bringing up our children in the faith. I mentioned making podcasts for Faith in Kids, and leading my church’s Pathfinders group (11s-14s).

On Sunday morning, my wife was unwell, as were my own children. I planned to go to church as usual, looking forward to sitting in the pew, standing singing songs of worship and enjoying fellowship. Then my wife, on her sickbed, remembered something.

She was on the rota to help with Scramblers. This is the 3s-5s age group, probably my least favourite. I find them hardest to relate to and communicate with. But I knew our Junior Church team was stretched to the limit.

Would I step in?

I felt like God was saying to me, “Passionate about children and young people in the church, are we? Let’s see you with some four years olds.”

I tried to channel my inner Isaiah (“Here I am, send me!”) rather than my mental Moses (“Oh Lord, please send someone else”).

Cut To:

I had a great time and I made some new friends. Using Playmobil figures, we had Moses go up a mountain. We made gold jewellery out of yellow play dough. We gave it to Playmobil Aaron who threw it into a furnace to make a golden calf (the legs were a bit wonky). And all the Playmobil Israelites fell on their faces to worship. By the time Moses had been tipped off by God, and come down the mountain, received excuses from Aaron, and ground the calf into powder and made the Israelites drink it, two of our members needed the loo. And then the main service ended and that was that.

It’s easy to wonder what the point of that time together was. At the time, I felt these children were to young to ‘get’ the story. They didn’t seem to realise quite how weird it was. And they didn’t get the subtleties of the story, or the nuances of meaning around the idolatrous nature of the human heart.

But most adults don’t understand any of this either. Moreover, many adults weren’t taught this story as children and so haven’t had decades to reflect on it, revisit it and ponder it. And that is what we should do with stories.

In Church, we like to decode and demystify them. But do we dwell on them? I touched on this last time in my article about a tick-box Bible culture.

Trust the Story

What are we teaching our children? Are we finding 52 different ways of telling them to be good? Or are we captivating their minds with the rich stories of the Bible? There are so many stories, moments, events and episodes to choose from.

In fact, why choose? We don’t need to. If we spend a few times a week with our children on top of scripture on Sunday, we can cover hundreds of stories in a few years. And then we can cover them again. And again. Why don’t we do that? Are our excuses any better than Aaron’s?

Each time we cycle through the stories, we will all see a new connection with another Bible story and a new resonance in our lives today, whether we’re a teenager, a young professional, a terrified new mum, a grumpy dad, an empty nester, newly retired or lying in a hospital bed, reflecting on the sum total of our lifetime’s experiences.

If they are stories by God and about Him, they will get to work on us. That is one of the ways the Spirit is at work on His people. That and getting big mouths like me to practice what they preach. So I’m grateful for that precious morning spent with those four years old, pulling around play dough and pondering anew the story of Aaron’s truly terrible excuse.

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For more funny moments in the Bible, why not get hold of my latest book, The Gospel According to a Sitcom Writer? In fact, why not get two copies? It’s a good present. And while you’re there a copy of The Sacred Art of Joking. Christmas is coming. And it keeps this lights on at this end. As Mrs Doyle says, “Go on, go on, go on, go on,” etc.

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