Monday, December 30, 2013

The Dirty Hands of God

"How long will You look on? [...] O Lord, be not far from me." Ps. 35:17, 22

An old friend of mine has been leaving much of the faith he grew up with, and it has made him say some strange things. For example: one of his step-daughters (who's about six or seven) came up to him and asked if he would like to donate some money to her church. He asked her why and she said her church was trying to raise money to build a well or water pump (I forget which) in some African village that did not have a consistent and clean water supply. My friend then asked her if she knew God really loved those people, and she said He did. His response was: "Then why doesn't He give them water?"

Knowing my friend, I'm sure he thought he was being clever or funny, though I don't know whether or not he gave her any money. What I do know is that his final statement was ironic, ironic because of its ignorance about God and His main means of operation in the world today: the Church. The Church is made up of all true believers everywhere and is referred to in Scripture as "the body of Christ" (Rom. 12:3-5; I Cor. 12:12-27; Eph. 4:15-16), which means several things, but one in particular is that the Church is the continuing presence of Christ (and thus, God) on earth in human form after His ascension. That is why my friend's statement was ignorantly ironic: he wondered aloud why a loving God wouldn't give people water, not seeing that God was in the process of doing just that through His body, viz., the people of a local church, including my friend's own step-daughter.

I suppose the fact that God doesn't play by our rules (or our logic or "good" ideas) can be quite frustrating. It would seem simpler and smarter for God to just snap His fingers and fix a problem, any problem, all problems, in an instant. But He doesn't. He seems instead to take the long way around: holding off the apocalypse while working out His will through people and their actions. It does seem counter-intuitive, though why it's not is an issue for another post. For now, the point is that what the story of Scripture (and I would posit common Christian experience as well) seems to say is that God prefers to work through things: actual objects and places as well as people and their actions. He does not work in the abstract nor perform out of thin air. As with the creation in Genesis and on through to today, all God's works are gritty and tangible, even if they're often too subtle to be a spectacle.

The god of this world.
We demand a spectacle. We often demand (as my friend did in a roundabout way) that God "prove" himself though some spectacle, some instantaneous feat from nowhere, like He's a magician performing tricks for an audience. It is the attitude Mussolini had when he said, "God, if you are there, strike me dead!" It is the sentiment expressed in a very moving scene in The Grey when Liam Neeson's character calls out for God to save him from the dire situation he's in (which of course "God" doesn't do). It is the position held by the Pharisees when they demanded a "sign" from Jesus (Matt. 12:38; Matt. 16:1; Mark 8:11), and Jesus' answer then seems to be God's answer now: "no sign will be given" (Mark 8:12). No performance, no spectacle, no show. It is not the way He works.

"Let's get down to 'de nitty-gritty."
God's work is concrete and patient, like an invincible yet currently invisible seed planted in the earth, growing unstoppably though subtly. He does not work through instantaneous nothingness but rather though all the solid substances He has made: through flesh and blood, through dirt and water, through all the elements of nature and man. His presence has been marked by pillars of fire and cloud as well as whispers and whirlwinds, and His influence has been felt by thunder and hail as well as plagues of famine and pests and diseases. He wrought His will through the lives of nations and empires as well as individual people, from Moses and Joshua and Samuel to Balaam and Rahab to Peter and Paul. He has revealed Himself, first in words through voices and writings, and then by becoming a man Himself. And all of His acts take their time, from 40 years in the wilderness to 400 years of silence to 2000 years of the Church. He is always practical, methodical, and patient.

The hands of God.
Again, this can seem counter-intuitive to us, or at least counter to our intuition, which is necessarily limited, finite, and fallen, and of course God's thoughts are not our thoughts, etc. However, I don't care to leave the whole thing at the feet of "God works in mysterious ways," because I actually like the way He works. Seriously. I like that it is concrete, actual, gritty, a roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-your-hands- dirty affair. I like that the heart of the king (or president) is in God's hands (Prov. 21:1), and that my sanctification is God working through me (Phil. 2:12-13) rather than outside of me or in spite of me. I like that he can work and chooses to work through a local church and a little girl in order to bring water to someone. In short, I like that God is an incarnational God, a God of flesh and blood and earth. He is not "out there" or "over there" somewhere but rather right here with us, in the midst of all of us (Acts 17:26-28), both our pains and our joys, weeping and rejoicing in turn, and all the while working His unstoppable will and way through the actual, everyday lives of His actual, everyday people.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2013

1 comment:

  1. It is a privilege for God to work through us.