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theology

Why I Am A Christian, Part 3

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God and I have not always been on speaking terms. Not that I blame him; he’s always in the right, always perfect. I don’t always like reality. Sometimes I think The Way Things Are sucks. So I complain to God, and he says, “Tough.” Then I get miffed at him for not taking my side, as if he really should reconsider the way he has made things, and I quit talking to him for a while. It’s childish; I know. Nothing comes of it except that I have to come to my senses and apologize.

Sometimes God quits talking to me. I don’t think he actually gets mad at me. It’s more like a dad who just gets tired of being ignored when he tries to tell his son something. So he quits telling him. I’m not always willing to listen. In fact, I can be downright stubborn, enough to try the patience of Jesus himself. I’m not proud of it, but there it is. God has a way of getting his point across without words. He just lets reality sink in until I can’t continue in denial any longer. Then I sheepishly acknowledge that he was right all along, and we’re cool again.

Even when we are cool, God can be reticent. He says one word for every one hundred I say. Maybe it’s because he has already said so much. Or maybe it’s because I just don’t hear him. Or maybe I’m the one who is always talking whenever we’re together. The funny thing is; when he says something, it somehow changes me.

He’s tough. He’s strong. He’s not safe or domesticated. He’s immovable and always thinks he’s right. But he’s good. He is always good. And the indescribably amazing wonder of it is that, good as he is, he accepts me. You can’t help admiring a God like that.

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Being Grumpy

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I’ve always admired great curmudgeons: men—they are always men; there is no polite word for a woman curmudgeon—who are at once witty and wise and aloof. They have both inspired and excused my own grumpiness. Of course, there’s more to being a curmudgeon than grumpiness, but an ungrumpy curmudgeon is as oxymoronic as a gloomy Pollyanna. Grumpiness is a necessary but not sufficient condition for being a curmudgeon.

Showering is a good time for thinking deep thoughts, and I was meditating on the character of the Bishop of Digne in Les Misérables, when a question popped unbidden into my head.

Was Jesus ever grumpy?

This question had nothing to do with Victor Hugo’s saint.

Clearly Jesus became angry. He overturned the tables where the bankers were exchanging money. He drove the sheep and goats out of the temple. He laid into the people who were buying and selling with a whip made of knotted cords. But anger is different from grumpiness. Jesus’ anger had a well-defined object. The Jews were effectively barring Gentiles from the one area of the temple where they were permitted to worship. Grumpiness is a diffuse irritability. It has no particular object but tends to take whatever comes. Someone who is grumpy does not want to be bothered, and nearly everything is a bother. It’s hard to see Jesus as grumpy.

However, it’s easy to see God as grumpy. In fact, most people, Christian or not, have had an impression of God as an irritable old man, sifting through people’s lives like a fastidious beggar going through other people’s trash. They see him take a discarded chicken leg, sniff it, grimace with disgust, and toss it aside. Or maybe he’s like your own father, always searching out your flaws, never satisfied with you, muttering under his breath when you come in the room and exuding an air of fault-finding and pickiness wherever he goes.

Jesus demolishes these images. (One of his favorite pastimes is smashing idols.) “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” “I do nothing except what I see my Father doing.” Or my favorite: “While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” God is not grumpy.

Maybe my admiration for grumpy old men is misplaced.

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Walking Backwards

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A Parable

I saw the devil in a desolate land walking backwards as fast as he could. He was making good time looking intently behind.

“Why do you walk like that?” I asked.

“So I can see the mistakes I’ve made and the pitfalls I’ve avoided,” he said. “I am what all my past choices have made me.”

Falling in beside him, I was soon insensibly matching his pace, and I could see what he meant. The landscape stretched away from me bathed in a crimson glare. I could see quite near where I had lied, and further off where I had betrayed a friend. In the distance were monuments of my childhood: the time I was falsely accused, the time when I cheated on my homework. All my past lay before me, and I felt the terrible weight of its certainty.

Suddenly, I heard a loud voice saying, “Turn toward the light.” I realized with a start that I was walking backwards like the devil, and I remembered that “to repent” means “to turn.”

I stopped and turned around. The land before me was very dark, but in the distance a great light was shining. The devil was nowhere to be seen. I looked down and saw that I could make out my way for only a few steps. As I crept forward, I found that my way was always lit but only for a step or two. I began to walk with greater confidence and soon broke into a run. The light was before me, and I felt like I could fly. I could see indistinctly the figure of a man up ahead, and I knew that it was me.

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