What shall I answer?

Posted on March 22, 2016

“Behold, I am vile;
What shall I answer You?
I lay my hand over my mouth.
Once I have spoken, but I will not answer;
Yes, twice, but I will proceed no further.”

If you look at the span between the two posts preceding, it is nearly a year; January to November. The longest gap of any since this chronicle started.  It is difficult to find a new thing to say. How’s the weather in London? Well… foggy, I suppose.

We read Scripture as tidy, complete stories. Read another verse, or maybe a chapter, and the situation changes. There are ellipses of years buried in there that we happily conclude, “And then God saved them out of their distress.”

If I paraphrase as Scripture does (and yet not even as much as that), these years have been a dialogue between me and God, thus:

Me: “I wish to be pleased. Please me now.”

God: “No; and in fact it may be that you are never satisfied until the kingdom of my son is revealed on earth as it is in heaven.”

Me: “But I am a man; I live in breaths, not eternity. Please me now, or I perish.”

God: “He who believes in me shall not die, but have everlasting life.”

Me: “That’s eternity! There they do not eat, but from the tree of life! They do not drink, but from rivers of living water! They do not marry, they do not die! Feed me now, or take my life!”

God: “Are you the first to wait upon the Lord?”

Me: “You have secured the Alpha and Omega of all things. If you will not give any care to the middle, I will see to it myself!”

 

And God, in his mercy, does not answer that.

I know it is wrong; I can explain why it is wrong in a heartbeat. But explaining how mankind got to the moon does not get one there. The heart beats in two stages, wa-woosh, wa-woosh, and if the first stroke is an answer, a reason in half a hearbeat, than the other half is a reply without a reason: So what? I don’t care!

It is the stronger half of the heartbeat, the stroke that moves the blood through the whole body.

“Change your attitude,” they say. Who? Oh, everyone, I suppose; they say it even on Facebook. Halfpenny theology. “You control your attitude. ONLY you can control your attitude. You can’t control how THEY ACT, but it’s YOUR CHOICE how you REACT.” All that stuff. Need some advice? Penny a bushel, right there on Facebook. Grab some.

They’re teaching people to commit suicide. I don’t think they realize that, but they are. By adamantly insisting that you have the capacity to forge your own happiness on the private anvil of your own heart, and not only the capacity but the responsibility, they raise a mighty chant: You can do it! You can do it! YOU CAN DO IT!

That’s what they hear themselves saying, but to the one who has tried a hundred means a hundred times, it sounds like: Jump! Jump! Jump! JUMP!

One thing is certain: the dead do not feel mortal pains.

Some say they have immortal pains, which are worse. Some say they have no pains, which is better. Some say that having no pains is worse, because “‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Oh, poetical. But no more reliable than that idiotic slogan that “Pain is weakness leaving your body.” Sometimes it is. Sometimes it is your soul leaving your body. Same thing both ways? O weak soul, begone!

You can’t ever say you’ve “tried everything,” because only God has everything. God always has a way. Yes; yes! But he has not made all his ways available to all men at all times. Some prophets are fed by the ravens; others are killed by kings. They all wind up in heaven, I guess. But God is not very careful about the middle parts of the alphabet. There can be more or less letters, in different orders. And sometimes repeated.

When Joseph was thrown into Potiphar’s prison, he had already been delivered. He’d been thrown into a pit by his own brothers, then pulled out and sold off. He overcame this great adversity and rose to prominence in Potiphar’s house. He was faithful, even under extreme temptation, and his faithfulness was rewarded – with prison. Two years in prison, and God gave him miraculous insight into the meaning of dreams, and with it, an avenue for escape: plead my case to Pharaoh! But he was forgotten.

How does a man bear up under that? What does a man say to God after that – after having a holy vision and credible way out, only to have it closed up again? “That’s okay, God, I guess I didn’t really want to get out of prison right now anyway. Go ahead and rescue that guy that had to spend the weekend in jail. I’ll just stay here. Maybe I’ll reorganize the pencils in the desk drawer one more time.”

Theology is a tricky thing to lean on, a staff that turns into a serpent. Is God faithful to save his own? Then it doesn’t really matter; do what you want, it will all turn out right in the end! Are we responsible to work out our salvation with fear and trembling? So much the better — then you are already damned! Do what you want, it doesn’t matter! Does God reward those who faithfully wait on him? Not so far – and you’ll be dead by the time he does! Live it up while you can!

Feeling stuck, trapped? Throw yourself from the temple roof! Will not God bear you up on angel’s wings, even to heaven itself?

I moved to California. I took a job in Silicon Valley. Did I hope to find happiness? Yes. Did I not think that I would bring all my unhappiness with me, plus the pain of being far from everyone I love? I did think that. Did I run away from Nineveh? Yes. Did I choose to dwell in the cities of the sons of Cain rather than the tents of the sons of Israel? Yes. Did I exile myself to the wilderness, to spend 40 days and 40 nights in the purifying wilderness? Yes. Was it to hide from God? Yes. Was it to seek God? Yes. All of those reasons, whether a proud pursuit of self-righteousness or a greedy pursuit of sin; I carried all of them with me, knowingly.

When it came time that I was supposed to say, “No, thanks, I am going to stay here, where my family lives (because that’s where God has put me, because he has shown me a better way, that those ordinary moments spent faithfully in ordinary places are true treasure, and I forsake vain pursuit of worldly rewards),” the words died on my lips, because they tasted like a lie. Like they could be true, but it was a borrowed gospel: In the name of this Jesus, whom Paul preaches! And how he does preach!

“But who do you say that I am?”

Wretched man that I am! Who will free me from this body of sin?

 

Chirrup, chirrup. Crickets. Gethsemane’s crickets, locusts of the apocalypse, unblinking bronze-faced cherubim of Ezekiel’s Armageddon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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