Saturday, January 28, 2012


I thought that I had God figured out. I was pious, I was careful, and I made sure that every ‘I’ of my life was dotted, and every ‘t’ was crossed. And not just my own life: I interceded for my children and made sacrifices on their behalf, lest, in their unwitting youth, they offend that same righteous God who once sent a flood out over all the world in His anger at human sin. When I look back now, there must have been moments, probably very frequent moments, when my fussiness and pedantry drove my family crazy. My name was a byword in the community for meticulous godliness and righteousness. And the truly shocking thing was that, when calamity came, it didn’t help me one little bit.

Has anyone else lived through such a day? I have a feeling that, in years to come, my name will be a byword for suffering – and that was certainly not how I intended it to be. One after the other, before the messengers had time to even draw breath, I learned that, in a series of horrific events, I had lost my oxen, my donkeys, my sheep, my camels, and many of my faithful servants. Finally, and most dreadful of all, all 10 of my children died at once when the house collapsed on top of them!

I was devastated. How could such things happen to me when I had always been so careful? I tore my robe, I shaved my head, and I sat down in the dust of despair. Even then, in my wretchedness, I was careful not to sin with my tongue, and piously offered worship to the God who had brought me so low. But torment was not finished with me yet. Days later the pain of my life was compounded by the pain of my body, and I broke out in disgusting sores from head to toe. Truly my life was sheer misery. I continued to proclaim God’s righteousness (and my own), but all was darkness and horror to me.

And my friends stopped believing me. If I was suffering so much, mustn’t there be something I was being punished for? Shouldn’t I simply confess my dark sin and be reconciled to God? In all fairness, I would probably have believed the same thing myself once. But now I was in a place where my theology fell short, and my heart became a desperate plea to God for my vindication. The most unbearable part of my pain was the silence of God in the face of this vast injustice.

But God did not remain silent, and when he spoke it was like a mighty rushing wind overturned all the neat constructions of my mind, blew them all into chaos, and then his glory shone in through the holes and dazzled and overwhelmed me. How can my minuscule wisdom stand against the one who sings through the beauty of the stars and created strange and marvelous creatures for his own good pleasure? My knowledge was ignorance, and my understanding more futile than that of the brute beasts. He was not a God who could be contained by the structures of my own righteousness, beyond my neat patterns he was burning love and holy light. He was not answerable to me, and owed me nothing, and yet he came to me, and in his coming I repented of my former small-mindedness, as a desert-dweller repents of his knowledge of water when he first beholds the ocean. The deepest reconciliation possible comes when our falsehoods are overrun by truth and our hearts are broken into joy.

And if all this were not enough, and more than enough, he then restored every blessing that had been taken from me.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The River

It was the final barrier before the Promised Land, and this was a new generation, 40 years later, who had not known the Great Redemption of the crossing of the Red Sea. The priests and Levites went first, carrying the Ark of the Covenant, and the people started following behind, wondering what to expect. Joshua did not do as Moses had done, stretching forth his staff across the waters. It was a new day and a new way of doing things, for the presence of God was in the Ark, which carried the record of His commandments and His mighty deeds. It was the season of harvest, and the river was in flood, but when the priests carrying the Ark set foot in the water, the water upstream stopped flowing, piling up at a distance; the water downstream flowed away, and the whole nation crossed over into the a place where they had never been before. They had walked through a miracle into a promise, and victory lay just ahead.

The people came, from all walks of life. Oh, the gawkers and the idlers came to check out the new sensation, but they weren’t the only ones. The spiritually hungry came, and so did the ones who were crushed by the Law. The busy and the responsible came, for this was something new in Israel. Roman soldiers came, and also tax collectors. Many came because they knew that something was badly wrong, and they were desperate to find the keys to a new beginning. And the Pharisees and the Sadducees came to criticize, and when he called them a brood of vipers, there were gasps at his boldness, but also many quiet nods. For the wise know that when something is rotten at the core, one should question the leadership.

But perhaps the strangest thing was what he didn’t say, for he made no claim to be the Messiah, unlike many before him. The Messiah would be among them very soon, he said, and meanwhile their job was to repent, to enter the waters of baptism as if they were strangers and foreigners, joining God’s covenant people for the very first time. So they came to the river, and the waters did not part but closed over them as they renounced sin, and when they emerged from the waters some of them realised that this was the beginning of a new people of God, and the promises of God meant something more than just the physical land in which they already stood.

He has braved the way before us, our great High Priest who was, in his own self, the presence of God entering the darkest waters, the place called death which is the antithesis of that He is – the Living Lord. He has passed through, and he has made a way before us, for death itself has been destroyed. We must each come to the river, and our flesh may well recoil from its cold, harsh waters, but we know that He has been there before us, and the glorious fulfillment of every promise lies on the other side, for all the promises of God (yes, all of them) are yes and amen in Him. And so we come, and there are tears, for in mortality we taste the full bitterness of our fall, and the waters close over our heads. And we will rise from the waters to know our heart’s desire, and glory in the wonder of it. And there shall be no more death, for the river itself is transformed, and the water of life will flow forth from His throne. And all will be wholly well.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

The Day I Fed Jesus

Normally my mother wouldn’t have let me go off like that, but she was busy with the new baby and just wanted some peace and quiet. So when she knew I was going to be with the neighbours, and had made me promise not to wander off on my own, she gave me some lunch and sent me on my way.

Now, let’s be honest, listening to preachers isn’t my favourite thing to do (synagogue on Sabbath is normally quite enough, thank you) but there’s something about the excitement of being in a big crowd that gets under your skin and makes you feel all prickly waiting for something to happen. And when I actually started listening to the teacher instead of just watching everyone else, I was surprised. I found I actually wanted to listen to him. Not that I understood everything, mind you, but as I listened to him, I started getting ideas that I’d never had before. The rabbis always taught us a list of rules for pleasing God, which they called the Law. But when I listened to Jesus I no longer saw the law as a boring dreariness that wanted to suck all the fun out of life, but as something like an egg. This egg is pure and perfect and white, and very easy to break, but it was never meant to be polished and shiny and sitting on a shelf. An egg treated like that grows cold, and the life inside it dies. Eventually it is rotten, but people spend their whole time tiptoeing around it at a distance, for fear of knocking it down from its shelf and shattering it. The stench is terrible when that happens.

But that is not what it is for. An egg is meant to be kept warm, close to the heart, so that it can nourish life. And then, at just the right time, it hatches, and out of it comes the light and life and love of God, enough to fill the whole world. And this teacher, Jesus, was the hatching of the egg, but so many people couldn’t see it because they wanted their egg, I mean the Law, just the way it had always been.

The day wore on, and people were starting to get restless and hungry. I could see Jesus quietly talking to his disciples out the front, and, being only small, I slipped between people to find out what was going on. When I got close I realised that they were talking about how to feed so many people. Suddenly I knew what I should do. It seemed ridiculous, when I took it out and looked at it, one boy-sized meal, two dried fish and five little loaves. What use could it possibly be? And did this mean I would go hungry? For a moment I thought of slipping off and eating it myself, but I remembered what Jesus had been talking about, and the picture in my mind of love and life and glory, and I wanted to be a part of that, so I offered up my lunch.

After that, things happened fast. We were all seated in groups on the ground, Jesus gave thanks to God for the food (my lunch!!) and then the disciples started handing it out . It seemed ridiculous, maybe a few people could have some if they had only a mouthful each, but it wasn’t even enough to feed Jesus and all his disciples! Except it was. I still don’t understand how it worked, but Jesus did something amazing, because there was plenty of food for everyone. I got my lunch back again, all I could eat, but I could hardly eat in the excitement of watching my lunch stretch to feed so many people. It was like the feast of Heaven. And sometime in the middle of it all Jesus looked at me with a smile so big that it held all the wonder and love and life he’d been talking about. I knew that even though I was just a little boy, I had understood him properly.