A guest post by Megan Smith*
Readings for October 6, 2019
Habakkuk 1:2-3, 2:2-4
Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9
2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14
1 Peter 1:25
Stephen Fry did an interview with Gay Byrne for RTE’s Meaning of Life wherein he explained atheism from his own perspective, saying that if he ever met God “I’d say, bone cancer in children? What’s that about? How dare you? How dare you create a world to which there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right, it’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world that is so full of injustice and pain? That’s what I would say. ”
To me, he sounds a lot like Habakkuk. “How long, O LORD? I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery?”(HAB 1:2-3; 2:2-4) And their anger makes a lot of sense. Especially because the only reply that God gives is, “the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint.”
Or in other words, “Wait and see.”
And that is so, so hard to accept. It is the ultimate test of faith. I could face very real pain in this lifetime. In fact, I can guarantee I will. I may not die at peace. I could be raped, tortured, murdered. I could have two children and one could have bone cancer and the other could have their eyes blinded and God would not intervene. Not to mention the genocides, the systemic injustices, the famine, the natural disasters, and the other innumerable, inexplicable horrors the world has been known to bear.
And it seems natural to feel betrayal upon realizing this. But what has helped me to move past those feelings of betrayal is to remember two things:
- God wants to be loved
- I am not a god
The first, is much easier to swallow. Because I believe that the reason God does not intervene in our lives on Earth, is because God wishes to be loved. I believe that we were created to love and to be loved. I believe that is why one of the greatest desires in our being is to love and to know love. I believe we are drawn towards goodness, towards right acts, towards the overcoming of pain, towards community. But from what I know of love, is you can’t really know if it’s love if it is never tested, and it wouldn’t be love if God could force us to do it. To behave in a way that is pleasing to Him. To choose Him. To worship Him. Or in other words, it also isn’t love if God forces us not to behave horribly, not to harm one another, not to be negatively impacted by the world. And it’s near impossible to say that when looking in the face of horrific tragedy, but I still want to believe it to be true, and to somehow believe that the chaos and the pain could amount to a truly beautiful thing–if I’m willing to wait and see. And it isn’t quite that I’m an optimist, I’ve been known to be rather cynical in fact, but I do want to have faith, and so I work and I try to choose to believe in that.
And as for the second, well that tends to require far more humility than I am usually comfortable with. Because I like to believe that I am in control, it helps me to feel safe. And part of that means that I like to believe that I understand, that I am capable, that I am wise. I even like to feel like I could be as wise as God, like I could have a relationship with Him where we exchange ideas, like we are friends. And a lot of this comes from the human constructs that I apply to God, such as a name (God or Jesus) or a title (Father) or even a gender (He). But the fact is that God is so far beyond my human understanding and there is a reason that when asked to give a name the only reply He gave was “I am who I am.” (Exodus 3:13-15) Not only because at the time people believed that if they knew the name of a God they could command them, but because of the similar repercussions we see now, wherein by giving God a name and a gender and a title I can see Him as something I can relate to and as a being that I have a right to reason with.
So Jesus necessarily knocks me down a few pegs this week and reminds me that I am a servant first, and I am entitled to nothing. He asks, “Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here immediately and take your place at table’? Would he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat. Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink. You may eat and drink when I am finished’? Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? So should it be with you. When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.'”
I admittedly hate this truth, but I am a servant. I am not a queen. I am not a god. I am here on Earth to work, and to continue working for as long as my master commands it. It is crucial that I remember to practice humility when I approach God. That I not forget my place in the face of the abundance of love and gifts that have already been offered to me. And as an American this is very difficult for me to write, but perhaps, just maybe, it is not my place to be so rash as to question or be angry with the almighty who reigns in heaven and on Earth.
This is the challenge of true faith. Can I choose God, can I choose to love, can I choose to live the life of a servant–no matter what it may cost? And even when there is absolutely no guarantee that there is a table waiting for me at the end of this life? Much less a guarantee that I will be invited to sit at it?
I can. And I will. “For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control” (2 TM 1:6-8, 13-14). The choice will always be my own to make, and the choice admittedly varies often by the day, but all I can do is try. To work every day to be courageous enough to love, to let go of my desire to control and of my ideas for how I would like to reign were I God, and to try to accept the unfathomability that is the divine. To allow my focus to remain on the task I have been given: to love and to serve.
Lord, grant me the humility to love and to serve both you and all of your people. I know I am weak, I know I have doubts and questions and I am prone to challenging you and to forgetting who I am. Thank you for the patience and grace you have shown me in the face of my rashness and my fear. Grant me the patience to wait and see the goodness you have planned, and allow me the focus to work towards being a mustard seed in the torrential sea that this world can sometimes feel to be. With gratitude and love I say to you, amen.
*Megan Smith is the Editor, Webmaster, and Social Media Director for Reflections from the Pew