I am very appreciative of the Index-Journal allowing local clergy to write these columns. My colleagues regularly give us food for thought and opportunities for spiritual formation. In short, they help us think about who God is. Isn’t that the fundamental question: “Who is God?” As many have noted, Jesus was much less likely to answer the question with a declarative statement and much more likely to answer it with a story. Here is a more contemporary parable.

Fred Craddock had a long, distinguished career as professor of preaching at Candler Divinity School. He used to tell of early in his ministry, 60 years ago now, when he was a young, single minister in rural Appalachia. The word came that some terrible violence was taking place, and couldn’t Fred go and see if he could intervene? He went to a very remote cabin in the woods, and there were several men behind trees with rifles and shotguns, and all of them were shooting into this cabin. Fred didn’t know who was in the cabin. He got the men’s attention and raised his hands to signal them to cease firing. He walked up on the porch, and a woman’s voice said, “What do you want?” She let him in, and the inside of the house was riddled with gunfire. There was a calendar on the wall, and on the month that was showing, there wasn’t a number that didn’t have bullet holes in it.

Fred said, “What’s the quarrel?”

She said, “I have no quarrel.”

He said, “How long have you lived here?”

“A week.”

“Where are you from?”

“Western New York.”

“Do you know any of these people shooting?”

“No.”

“I’m a minister of a church in town. Are you in a church?”

“Yes. We’re Roman Catholic.” And out from behind the chairs and the couch finally came six beautiful, frightened children. A single mother and six children among strangers.

Two of the men outside belonged to the little church Fred was serving. He asked if he could talk with them, so they gathered all the others. Fred said, “Do you know who she is?”

“No, but they say she’s from up north.”

He said, “Do you know what church she belongs to?”

“No, but they say she’s Roman Catholic.”

He said, “So she’s from up north, and she’s Roman Catholic– is that it? What has she done?”

They said, “We don’t want that kind in this community.” They talked for a long time, but Fred could tell that the men were not softening at all.

Fred said, “Finally I realized that I was on the wrong track. I stopped talking about north and south. I stopped talking about Protestant and Catholic. I stopped talking about locals and outsiders. I said, ‘Men, tell me about the God you worship.’”

Fred said: It was pitiful — their God was mean and narrow. So Fred told them about the God he worshipped. He said, “Fellas, we have a problem about God. Not about the woman, not about me, not about you, but about God.”

Someone reading this column in 2019 might say, “I’m not sure that that story applies to us. North versus South, Protestant versus Catholic — those categories are not a problem for us.” Good. But change uninvited Northerner to uninvited immigrant. Change Catholic to Muslim. And the question remains: What kind of God do we worship?

Fred Craddock said: The men outside that cabin believed — deeply — in God, a God for whom they would kill. The woman believed in God, too — a God for whom she would die. Whose God — theirs or hers — is more like the One revealed in Jesus Christ?

Tony Hopkins is the senior pastor of Greenwood First Baptist Church. He can be reached at tonyhopkins316@gmail.com.