Are You Listening?
Updated: Mar 24, 2022
Not just to the Falconer, but to the muses, whoever they might be? To the wise men and women of the world? To the collective conscience of civilization?
Something's in the air. The angle of light has changed. The strain of that song, played so long ago in a distant land, is getting clearer. A time of reckoning, it seems, is near. The hour, come round at last...
The four of us sat at our large dining room windows last night for half an hour to watch a spectacular thing, a razzle dazzle show of lightning arching itself in a hundred different directions across the night sky over the valley below us. We were at the cinema, and we were in the front row.
I wondered then, as I wonder now, how close we are to never witnessing such things anymore. I catch myself when I write -- or think -- such things. Clearly the God of all things wouldn't let it come to that, would he? Clearly He is in control, whatever that might mean?
I'm not so sure. At least I'm not so sure that our collective wish that God's control means the absence of tragedies is correct, or even biblical. The Exodus story tells of hundreds of years of captivity, and I've always been struck by these lines from the end of Exodus 2:
During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.
Notice the mention of "that long period"? That long period, dear Reader, is 400+ years. Longer than our blessed country has been in existence. Twice the length of the Pax Romana. About the length of an average Chinese dynasty. And what did God do with the Israelites' cries of despair and pleading for rescue? He "heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob... and he looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them."
Awwww... how sweet, right? I mean, how touching that God heard them, remembered his promise to them, even looked upon them with concern. But what about coming down out of the sky like that lightning show last night and smiting every last Egyptian? What about hoisting the Pharaoh on his own petard? What about not waiting 400+ years for Moses to show up and just doing it yourself, God? Maranatha already.
Turns out, perhaps to our collective chagrin, that God is not a micro-manager. He does not step in at every breach of justice to make his will known. Sometimes he just waits, and waits, and waits. And while he does, 400-year slaveries take place, and 400-year dark ages take over continents, and 6 million Jews are killed in concentration camps.
Let's face it. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God Jesus Christ, the God of the Old and New Testaments, is not a sentimentalist (to put it mildly). His ways are most emphatically not our ways, his thoughts not our thoughts -- are as high above our own ways and thoughts as the heavens are above the earth. No altimeter needed. That's different dimension high, good people.
And yet we continue to insist in our comfortable domesticity, in our genteel and gentrified expressions of faith, to assume that this same God is at our beck and call, that he responds to us in this mysterious exchange called faith, that the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob is our cosmic lackey. I don't mean to suggest that he doesn't respond to us, or that he doesn't answer our prayers. But, I mean, not so fast. And I actually mean, not so fast. Like, 400-year slow.
We may get the mistaken impression (and I suppose we can be forgiven some of this) that in our relationship with God, it's a sort of equal two-way street, a quid pro quo arrangement, where we give a little to God, he gives a little back. But we would be so wrong to think this. So very, very wrong. Our relationship with God is, to put it simply, asymmetrical. It is not a contract of co-equals. It is not an "understanding."
We make requests of God. He answers as he pleases. Or not. We pray to be delivered from bondage. He rescues when he decides to. Or not. We ask to be saved from the chains of hell. He saves whom he chooses. Or not. And by saying this, I don't mean to suggest that God is mercurial, unreliable, indifferent to our fates. On the contrary. For he so loved the world that he sent his son Jesus. God cares. A lot. For each one of us. For the hairs on our head. Even for the birds in the skies.
But the lightning dances all the same. Men and women groan in suffering all the same. People die all the same. And in the meantime, some rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born.