The Noah account is well known. God gets fed up with human rebellion, wipes out nearly all of creation, and starts over. But the way it comes down presents a glimpse into the divine nature.
We have Noah building a huge boat to exact specifications. The chore of gathering every species of living thing. Then heavy rain for forty days, with the ark finally floating peacefully while a bird provides environmental intelligence. And those are only the highlights. There’s much more.
Why all the drama? Couldn’t God have simply sent a cosmic gamma ray and accomplished the same thing in a millisecond? A co-worker recently opened my eyes to a possible answer during an unrelated conversation. “God loves a good story,” she said.
That could explain a lot. Perhaps life’s challenges, joys, even sufferings, are part of a huge intersection of complex tales … His, yours, mine, everyone’s. God could snap those heavenly fingers and circumvent thousands of intermediate steps, but we’d lose all the nuances of the process. And would our experiences be as beneficial?
As much as I sometimes long to see a magic wand rescue mankind – and me – instantaneously, that’s not likely to happen. Since I can’t understand or explain, I’ll rely on my friend’s insight. God just loves a good story.
It seems that every time I embark upon what should be a simple home project, it winds up taking all day. A number of steps inevitably go wrong while the job is underway.
Let’s suppose I want to hang a picture. The drill’s battery is dead, the right screwdriver is nowhere to be found, my measurements are two inches off, something falls on the floor and breaks – you get the idea.
Though a direct analogy to God is theologically incorrect, I wonder if he feels something even a little similar. Could it be that the Almighty sits in heaven thinking “I created a beautiful world, and those humans polluted it, used its resources for all the wrong reasons, and wound up hating one another.”?
In my case, the task is always successful by the time the saga ends. The picture gets secured to the wall, perfectly centered, with no evidence of the struggles that were involved.
Likewise, God’s plan hasn’t totally played out yet. The yearning of loving hearts is that eventually this whole situation will be as he designed it, even if that occurs only in some other realm.
What we see as current chaos is likely a freeze frame of a work in progress that will one day be completed magnificently. At least let’s hope so.
Loving people can be difficult. They’re just so … un-lovely at times. The offenses range from cutting ahead in a merging line of traffic to unspeakable crimes. What to do?
Perhaps an answer lies in looking at the root causes of this ugliness. At first it might seem that pride, selfishness, jealousy, and so forth drive the deeds that drive me crazy. That’s true to a degree. But if I search deeper still, something much more profound emerges.
Greed could lead a man to steal from his employer, but what led the man to greed? If one accepts the biblical account, the answer is that we are all trapped in a nature which often voluntarily makes wrong choices – sometimes extremely wrong. Our level of control over that is a matter of debate, but it’s clear that strengths and weaknesses vary by the individual and the situation.
Fully realizing that I possess the capacity to do whatever horrible act someone else has done causes me to soften a bit. Maybe turn down the judgment and turn up the mercy. As John Bradford stated upon seeing a procession of condemned prisoners, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
Should terrible behavior be tolerated by society? Not at all. Appropriate consequences for actions? Certainly. None of this, however, restricts my liberty to feel and show compassion toward a fellow human being. I’m free to love.
An old joke says that a salesman died and was given a chance to visit both heaven and hell before choosing where to spend eternity. The devil gave him a tour of hell, where everyone was singing, dancing, and having a good time. Next, St. Peter showed the man heaven. Its inhabitants sat idly on clouds, playing harps.
“Hell looks like a lot more fun,” the man said. “I’ll go there.”
The next morning, he was ushered in. As the door opened, there was nothing but flames and torment. “What’s going on?” the deceased salesman asked. “This isn’t what I saw yesterday.” The devil replied, “Yesterday you were a prospect. Today you’re a customer.”
Religion does something similar. Early on I was told that God was merciful and ready to extend forgiveness with no requirement on my part other than to believe. Only after I acknowledged assent was I given the nearly endless list of dos and don’ts. I was told how to act, speak, vote, and think … what to read, watch, hear, and say … where to go, what to do, who to make my friends.
For a time, I bought it all. Finally, however, the bondage of that man-made system became clear and the freedom of truth broke through.
Today I simply try to live a life pleasing to my heavenly Father – a disciple of his only begotten son, who is my example. I guess you could say I took my business elsewhere.
Regardless of what one believes of Jesus, among the things he said was this: “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the father.” What an outlandish statement.
People debate constantly about the nature of God. Does he want us to destroy our enemies, or love them? What are the absolutes, if any, that he considers sin? Does he torment unbelievers for eternity, or give everyone a pass in the end? The dialogue gets heated to the point of rudeness, all in the name of seeking truth.
I’ve noticed that Christ’s followers almost always promote the side of him that fits their belief of God’s character. One group focuses on Jesus forgiving a woman caught in the act of breaking a law punishable by death. Another reminds us that he angrily rebuked the insincere and toppled a greedy commercial enterprise.
Though there are certainly those who disagree, my personal belief is that Jesus identified more with the humble than the proud. I think he leaned heavily toward mercy rather than judgment. That he chose grace over toeing the line. Peace instead of conflict, whenever possible. And I’m absolutely convinced that he looked to the heart and preferred seekers to the religious. But maybe I’m jaded by my own assumptions.
If we want to know what God is like, the suggestion of the one who claimed to be his son is this: “Look at me.” Sadly, it’s not so easy, but it’s a place to start.
There aren’t a lot of people outdoors at 5:00am in the bedroom community where I live. Perhaps a few with early morning occupations, the occasional party animal coming home, and me – a runner.
One particular day while trotting along a more major street before dawn, a garbage truck came toward me. We were the only signs of life in sight. I waved as it passed, and in response heard two friendly taps on the horn: “Beep beep.”
With nothing more profound than that, we both continued on our way … me finishing a workout while the truck went to its next stop. But there was now an important difference. No longer were we simply a runner and a truck driver. We had become two living beings, with a human connection.
This illustrates one aspect of the life of Jesus. To him, every person was significant. They had stories. There was depth behind their life situations that deserved exposure and reflection.
Today we hear sermons about “the woman at the well”, “the rich young ruler”, and “the woman taken in adultery.” While the points made may be helpful (or not), the bigger lesson is that Jesus engaged with these individuals. He touched them at their exact points of pain and need. He gave them opportunities for reconciliation. He expressed love.
Somewhere in south Florida there’s a guy who happens to drive a garbage truck for a living. No doubt, like all of us, there are many facets to his life. I can only hope that early one morning he felt a little more human, momentarily linked to another human by a couple simple acts of acknowledgment. I know I did, and it was good.
Religious scholars speak of what they call systematic theology. This, according to them, is how one arrives at right thinking about the spiritual realm. God, however, who owns the spiritual realm, asks us to love Him, one another, and even ourselves. The two concepts don’t seem to be in harmony.
Can love be expressed by a system? Can I prove I love someone by spending just the right number of hours with that person, saying the perfect phrases, behaving in a certain manner? Or is love more spontaneous, dynamic, and organic?
A certain woman was known throughout town for her sinful lifestyle. One evening she broke all the rules by crashing a dinner party at the home of a man who by outward appearances was among the holy. There she showed great compassion for Jesus, who happened to be present, by washing his feet with her tears and drying them with her hair. The pious man of the house objected, and was then scolded by the Son of God for his lack of insight.
These days I care less about knowing all the answers and more about loving God by extending mercy and grace to others, providing a listening ear or some act of assistance. I’m aware that this may be seen as at least misguided, and perhaps heretical, by those who have their ducks in a row. I have no defense. I can’t systematically explain my current location on the spiritual journey. Maybe it’s better not to.
The Bible records several times when God reminded the Hebrew people who He was by using these words: “I am the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” How strange.
Freeing a small nation from slavery is noteworthy, but certainly God could have touted greater achievements: what about creating the entire universe from nothing, for example? Instead He chose a feat that those listening would find highly relevant to them.
It’s common to think of the Almighty as … well, just that. Theologians use pompous words, which they call “attributes”, such as omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. (All powerful, all knowing, everywhere at once.) Others might call Him “awesome” or acknowledge “the big man upstairs.” While these descriptions are well and good, they don’t seem to be too important to God Himself.
Apparently the King of the Universe prefers a more one-off approach. He wants to be remembered for His presence in individuals and small groups. He’s the Lord who provides breath each morning, the love of family and friends, daily provision, and a long list of other perks large and small. He’s the Lord who brought the very people He was speaking to out of the land of Egypt. And although He’s much more of course, being remembered for His personal touches appears to be good enough for Him.
Timely Note: Tomorrow we celebrate Memorial Day in the U.S. My deepest appreciation is extended to the men and women who sacrificed their lives to preserve freedom for our country. I think of them each time I enjoy the benefits of civilized society. May the loved ones left behind accept my thanks.
The message of Christmas began as something quite uncomplicated. An angel appeared to a few ordinary humans and said “I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David.”
Sadly, this good news has been made extremely complex. Theologians created systems for something that is not systematic. Scholars dissected and debated, confusing everyone and causing all meaning to be questioned. Others started movements, attached dos and don’ts, suggested conditions, and placed great burdens on their adherents. The man-made hurdles are endless.
In the midst of this, I find myself wondering … What if I could forget all the additions to the very basic message? What if nobody had ever told me I had to pray the magic prayer, live a certain way, associate only with people of one belief system, listen to lectures on a regular basis, read the right books, attend various meetings, hold specific political views (which vary, depending upon the leader I’m following), do certain activities while abstaining from others, etc.?
What if all I knew was that I am a regular guy who sometimes works long hours trying to eke out a living in a fallen world full of blessings, trials, wonder, and horrors. My life consists of good days and bad. Friends and family members who sometimes laugh also face financial trouble or bravely fight unspeakable disease. We all struggle with the “why” questions, wondering if there is any lasting happiness or meaning to this life.
And, like the men on that first Christmas, during one night that started off as any other night, an angel—an ANGEL no less—appears to me and says “I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David.”
Good news … Great joy … For all the people … A Savior. And none of the baggage that’s been added by man for 2000 years.
Maybe it really is just as simple as that. Merry Christmas.
(Thank you, Ronel, for sharing the meditation that revved up this line of thinking in my soul.)