Monday, October 22, 2012

Pentecost 21 B

God in a Box


What do you imagine God looks like? Ok, that might be too hard, what do you imagine God is like?

There have been thousands of years of the smartest people in the world trying to answer that question; we have gone from the most powerful male father guy up on top of the mountain right through to Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud telling us that people imagine God to make themselves feel better.

Some folks say God is love because that is what Jesus taught. Some Hindus say God is the creative and destructive power of the Universe. Some Native Americans say God is a trickster who most often takes the form of a Raven.

The thing is, everyone could be right, but everyone is most definitely wrong.

We put God in a box, and tie it up with a fancy ribbon and think we have it all figured out. That is the real tragedy… when we think we have anyone “all figured out” then we are not really capable of seeing them for who they really are… we have blinded ourselves to everything except our own pre-conceptions…

Think of the way white people in the Southern US assumed black people were incapable of learning, or thinking even… Think about how men figured women were incapable of figuring out politics enough to be given the right to vote… or how about the way we all think men have no feelings, and don’t want to talk about them…

In each and every case it is our conception, our beliefs about the other person which limits them.
Don’t you think we might do that with God too?

Voices in the Whirlwind

There was a time when God was understood in a rather simple way. You did what God wanted, God made you rich and happy. You turned against God; you were punished; simple as that. No one thought very much further than that – so when a very, very rich and powerful person, named Job, lost everything – money, wives, houses, his kids and even his health, the reason was simple – Job had made God angry.

“What did you do?” everyone asked… and Job always answered, “Nothing!” and so there he was, alone and sitting in the dust of the road, clearly a liar and a bad person… or else why had his life turned out this way?

You know there are times when we all think like this, right? Even though there was this book written some 4,000 years ago which tells us differently, we say, and think, “God is looking out for you?” or “God would be angry at you for that…”

“Who are you, that you think you can know the reasons behind what I do?!”

That, ultimately, is the answer to Job; no matter what you think is going on, there is no way for you to know everything, so why are you so sure you have it figured out?

This is a pretty important bit of ancient wisdom, no matter who we are, we cannot know the mind of God.

By itself, this is not much help to us… to simply say, you don’t understand everything in the universe does not make me want to accept everything either… I still think poor people should be taken care of, I still don’t understand why nice people die horribly in car accidents, and I still don’t get why jerks become wealthy…

I guess I am simply not as accepting of the way life is as I could be…  Or is this me trying to limit God again?

Of High Priests and Prophets

Jesus came to broaden our perspective. That is the core of his message. 2,000 years or so later we tend to forget this because we can no longer remember what it was like before Jesus…. Before Jesus the conception of God was limited to a nation – to a people. God was the God of the Israelites who would help them in battle and preserve their farmlands.

Jesus helped us to see God as more than that – and he did it by taking on as much as possible, the nature of God… so that when we saw Jesus, we saw God.

This is what the writer of the letter to the Hebrews is trying to get across, that once the high priest “spoke” for God; in much the same way that, say, the Pope speaks for the Catholic Church… but now Jesus speaks for God, and as we come on board, as we join Jesus, and learn from him, we too become the people that speak, and act on behalf of God.

How much more important is it, then, that we try to keep ourselves from limiting God because of our lack of imagination? How much more important is it that we open ourselves up to possibility, to the unexpected, to the unknown and mysterious nature of God?

But Here is the Thing… the Real Thing…

So, what is it that keeps us from seeing the world for what it is? What is it that narrows our view…

It is us… pure and simple… When I was growing up I moved and travelled a lot. I never once suspected that I spoke in any way other than the way that everyone in the world speaks… One day when I was about 14 I was camping with my family outside of Winnipeg. We were at a water park for the day, going down the slides, splashing in the pool, and keeping an eye out for pretty girls. When you come from a family with 5 boys… girls are a preoccupation.  

There was this really cute couple of girls who kept looking at us, one was blond and one had raven black hair… the thing is, my brothers and I were whispering to each other about how funny they sounded. There was this way they said “a” and they talked slowly, sort of like a song… we thought it was really funny.

They came over and said hi, because Girls are far more mature than guys, and we started talking to them, when all of a sudden one of them said, “You all talk funny!” and they both laughed and walked away….

It scarred me for life… or at least, it made me think… I could not see myself the way others see me. I had no idea people in the Maritimes had accents. I thought the whole world talked that way.

That is the thing. The way we see things, the way we are, blinds us and we do not even know it… take this 

Bible story in which the disciples are asking Jesus for something that they want, that makes total sense in the way they see the world… and Jesus even says yes to them! But the truth of the matter is that what Jesus says yes to is so far away from how the two favoured disciples see the world unfolding that they cannot even imagine it.

I wonder how often we are guilty of the same thing? How often do we miss the larger picture, or fail to follow God’s will for our lives because of the simple fact that our vision is too focused on who we already are, how we already believe things will work out?

Do we keep God in a box, limited by the four walls of what we believe in, and what would it be like if we set God free?


Did you ever see the movie Bruce Almighty? If you only watch two movies about God, you should pick Bruce Almighty and Evan Almighty. Because not only are they interesting, they are really, really funny as well.

So, the first one, Bruce Almighty is about this guy who is fed up with things not going his way. God comes along and says, ok, you think you can do better, you be God this week, and gives Bruce all of the powers of God.

Instantly things start going wrong. Bruce wants a romantic evening, for example; and brings the moon just a little closer so it will shine down on his evening candlelit meal… but moving the moon causes the tides to change, which causes flooding in China, which causes deaths…

The movie keeps going on and on with examples like this which make it quite clear that there are no easy answers… that it is never black and white…. That even if you had all powers and could move mountains, you still might have to spend a lifetime agonizing over whether or not it was a good idea to do it.

I know that there are times in life when we really do all want answers… when a loved one dies, or when we get sick for no reason, or even when it rains the whole week of our vacation…. But the thing is, there are no answers for most of life.

Whether it is that the ways of God are too mysterious, or whether it is that we are too petty and limited in our imaginations, one of the quickest ways to wisdom is to admit we simply cannot, and will never know everything.

But you know what? If I had my daughters all figured out, they could never surprise me and make me smile. 

If I had my girlfriend all figured out, she would never be the mysterious person who makes me smile when she does the unexpected.

Life is meant to be open, the possibilities endless, and God is at the centre of that unknown mystery… if we can just open ourselves up and let go, it could be so much more…

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