I just read the prologue from Peter Rollins book, “The Fidelity of Betrayal: Towards a Church Beyond Belief". I haven’t read any more of it yet, but I thought the story of “The Caretaker’s Trial” in the prologue was a great starting point for conversation. Read this story and tell me what you think?
There was once a small town filled with believers who sought to act always in obedience to the voice of God. When faced with difficult situations the leaders of the community would often be found deep in prayer, or searching the Scriptures for guidance and wisdom.
Late one evening, in the middle of winter, a young man from the neighboring city arrived at the gates of the town’s little church seeking refuge. The caretaker immediately let him in and, seeing that he was hungry and cold, provided a meal and some warm clothes. After he had eaten, the young man explained how he had fled the city because the authorities had labeled him a political dissident. It turned out that the man had been critical of both the government and the church in his work as a journalist. The caretaker brought the young man back to his home and allowed him to stay until a plan had been worked out concerning what to do next.
When the priest was informed about what had happened, he called the leaders of the town together in order to work out what ought to be done. After an intense discussion it was agreed that the man should be handed over to the authorities in order to face up to the charges that had been made against him. But the caretaker protested, saying, “This man has committed no crimes, he has merely criticized what he believes to be the injustices perpetrated by authorities in the name of God.”
“What you say may be true,” replied the priest, “but his presence puts the whole of this town in danger. What if the authorities find out where he is and learn that we protected him.”
But the caretaker refused to hand him over to the priest, saying, “He is my guest, and while he is under my roof I will ensure that no harm comes to him. If you take him from me by force then I will publicly attest to having helped him and suffer the same injustice as my guest.”
The caretaker was well loved by the people, and the priest had no intention of letting something happen to him. So the leaders went away again and this time searched the
Scriptures for an answer, for they knew that the caretaker was a man of deep faith. After a whole night of poring over the Scriptures the leaders came back to the caretaker, saying, “We have read the sacred book all through the night seeking guidance and found that it tells us that we must respect the authorities of this land and witness to the truth of faith through submission to them.”
But the caretaker also knew the sacred words of Scripture, and he told them that the Bible also asked that we care for those who suffer and are persecuted. There and then the leaders began to pray fervently. They beseeched God to speak to them, not as a still small voice in their conscience, but rather in the way that he had spoken to Abraham and
Moses. They begged that God would communicate directly to them and to the caretaker so that the issue could finally be resolved. Sure enough, the sky began to darken, and God descended from heaven, saying, “The priest and elders speak the truth, my friend. In order to protect the town this man must be handed over to the authorities.”
The caretaker, a man of deep faith, looked up to heaven and replied, “If you want me to remain faithful to you, my God, then I can do nothing but refuse your advice. For you have already demanded that I look after this man. You have written that I must protect him at all costs. Your words of love have been spelled out by the lines of this man’s face, your text is found in the texture of his flesh. And so, my God, I defy you precisely so as to remain faithful to you.”
With this God smiled and quietly withdrew, confident that the matter had finally been settled.