SOMETIMES I CALL HIM THE “SOMETIMES” GOD
The character that depicts Jesus in C.S. Lewis’ series, The Chronicles of Narnia is a ferocious lion named, Aslan. One of the notable characteristics of the lion was his unpredictability. He even seemed fickle at times. Sometimes he would show up and, in the nick of time, save the day; and at others he would refuse to intervene – almost aloof. Or he would only show himself to one person and remain invisible to the rest. One of the characters asked another about Aslan, “Is he safe?” “No. He’s not safe, but he is good.”
It’s hard for us to live with mystery, enigma, and paradox. We moderns allow for very little wonder in our lives. Everything has to be nailed down, have clear explanations, and fit a pattern. But accepting the ambiguity of God’s ways is huge part of a life of faith. He’s just not that nail-downable. Faith doesn’t mean that we have God all figured out, it means that we can live with him without having him figured out.
I think I love God more now than I did when I thought he was more predictable. When I was dependent on him acting predictably I see now that I loved the idea of God more than God himself. Now I’m beginning to love him more for who he is than for what he does for me. He’s not my personal “tech support” – not just the voice on the other end of the line advising me on how to remedy my viruses. He’s a “real” person who wants to be loved as such. Our love shouldn’t vacillate as he performs for us in ways that make us happy (or not). He loves us, not for what we do, though he revels in it when we do what he wants us to do. He wants from us the kind of love he gives – the lover’s kind of love.
I once thought of faith as just a means to an end,
but now I’m thinking it’s sometimes the end itself.
This is why some of my friends have been so quick to bail out when trouble and pain arrive. If God did nothing to prevent the pain or to stop it once it occurred, they have no more use for him. He was their Errand Boy, and if he’s not going to run errands anymore, then they look for someone or something else to keep them happy by doing things for them.
It’s easier to love someone if they make me feel safe, and if God is as unpredictable as I propose, how can I feel safe with him? How can I feel secure enough to love him if I can’t predict what he’s going to do or when he’s going to do it? It helps me to remember that he is predictably good. I may not know what he’s going to do, but I can be sure that whatever he does or chooses not to do finds its impetus in his character, which is unremittingly good. He’s good, and that’s all I really need to know in order to love him. I’m secure, not because I know he’s going to heal me of cancer or protect me today in traffic (I don’t know either one of those things). But I do find safety in his arms of love.
Many of my friends have commended me for “holding onto God” during unchecked loss and unalleviated pain. I think most of them would’ve done much better than I, and many have done just that in their own tests of faith. But we’ve been grieved to watch so many of our comrades become disappointed with God’s non-intervention and let go of their faith altogether. Others of us, on the other hand, have been content to love the God who loves us, whether or not he acts in a way that could be deemed as reasonable to our small minds.
He’s good, and that’s all I really
need in order to know in order to love him.
I help with a ministry in the worst of San Francisco’s neighborhoods. Just last week I had a conversation with a man in the Tenderloin named Gary, who is racked with rheumatoid arthritis. Even with a cane he can barely walk, his limbs crippled with excruciating pain. He lives on the street or in cheap slum hotels. If my heart was pained for him I can only imagine how God’s heart aches for Gary. He told me that he once had a close relationship with God, but now he admitted that he’s “bitter at God” because he had let this happen to him. I told him I could relate to some of those same feelings.
Then came the moment of truth. Would I lay some “preacher talk” on him and spout some spiritual platitudes about God making everything better? Don’t misunderstand me, I believe with all my heart that God heals and restores. I’ve seen him do it, and very much prefer things to turn out that way. But the thing is, I have no idea if he’s going to do that with Gary or anyone else for that matter. Sometimes he gives us the “gift of faith” for some particular supernatural intervention. (I define this gift as “The sudden surge of supernatural certainty for a certain situation.”) But unless he drops that supernatural certainty in my heart, I can’t know how he’ll do what he’ll do or when he’ll choose to do it. So I decided to just pray for him. It came out something like: “Lord, please touch Gary today. If you could take some (or all) of his pain away right now, I’d be very grateful. He’s admittedly bitter with you about his agony, and I don’t think you blame him for that. He’s confused about how a good God like you could be so remote, and I share some of his confusion. You don’t always act like we’d hoped, but even though I’m perplexed by your apparent non-involvement, I believe you are involved with Gary, and love him with all your heart. Please move in his life right now, and begin showing yourself to him through whatever means you choose. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”
I know that’s not the kind of preacher prayer to which you might’ve been accustomed, but it’s the prayer I had that day. The next time I saw Gary, he was still dreadfully crippled, but he seemed a little less pained in his soul.