There’s this popular idea in our evangelical circles around this time of year – phrases like “God stepped down into history” and things of that ilk. It’s enough of a theological problem that I can’t really ignore it. It bugs me.
Listen to me. God did not step into history. He MADE it. God IS history. Or rather, history IS God’s. It’s been His. It will continue to be His. All of the earth’s long, languid story is His. All of the beauty and imaginative innovations of the world throughout time and space is His. He is the Author. He is the Story Teller. He didn’t show up around 4 BC in Bethlehem. It’s bad theology to think so, it’s bad soteriology to live like so, and it’s bad Christology to tell people so.
Some may think it’s semantics, but it is not. The distinction is an important one. It is telling of our theology and, ultimately, our faith and our understanding of this world and what our part is in it. We all tend to think of US (as in the plural pronoun, not the abbreviation of a country… though that is another blog for another day) as the protagonists. Humanity. Or more specifically, ME. I am the main character. Everything that is happening happens to me, around me, about me, in me. Not long ago, the phrase “It’s all about me” was super popular. Irony or not, it was a huge trend ending up on coffee mugs and bumper stickers all over the place. It’s one of our biggest obstacles to understanding … well… ourselves. YOU will never fully know what YOU are all about, until you stop focusing so much on YOU. Neither will I. Seems so counterintuitive. A lot of truth does. But when we begin to study God and His story from the perspective that HE is the center of the story, we also begin to see how we each have such a very, very small part – not INsignificant, mind you, just smaller than we thought we did. And trying to make ourselves the focal point, affects everything.
It becomes the central idea in our worship. My worship. My church. My songs. My ministry. My scripture.
It becomes the focus of our lives. All the things I have to do. What I want for My family. What I wish My spouse would do.
It extends in infinite widening circles… my career, my home, all my possessions, my community, my extended family… on and on… I am the main character.
It’s never been more clear to me that I would not tell the story the way God tells the story. The plot would be way different. When we start down the path of wondering how God could create the world and let it be the way it is, it gets rocky, doesn’t it? Just in my life alone, I have struggled with understanding how God could allow terrible things. My abandonment as an infant. My struggles of identity, placed in a country and culture so far from my birth. The loss of my best friend in high school. Sexual harassment, abuse, rape. The pain of my choices, and the choices of others. My loneliness and confusion and self-hatred. The years of searching for meaning and hope.
And that’s just me. I know countless, literally countless, stories of people who have had such tragedy and despair. I could tell you of at least a dozen stories right now of good people I know who are suffering terribly for any number of reasons. Tragic losses, diseases, interpersonal conflicts, adultery, marital strife, extreme displays of the bitterness that has built up over years and years of a growing sense of hopelessness and anger with God. This is just a short list of things I know of personally. Multiply exponentially. And then multiply again. Because the list just doesn’t end.
How does God let it happen? there are some who have a clock maker view. He made the clock, set it in motion, and now it’s just running. Maybe once in awhile He’ll come in and reset the hands. Or there are those with a more sadomasochist version of God, like a Zeus character, pompous, arrogant, power-hungry.
I’ve lived with both of these views, and others. I’ve tried to live life without God and with some other version of Him that suited my life. What I kept coming back to – and have to keep coming back to – is that I AM NOT THE PROTAGONIST. It is NOT all about me. The works of God the Father, the Son and Savior Jesus and the Spirit he left until the work is done. These are the facts of history. It sounds kooky and wacky. It will trip you up. It will make wise men fools. But it will make fools wise.
I had a half-realized dream of being a writer in college. I took a lot of creative writing classes and I did a short stint as a grad student at a writing program. It was tough to get in and even tougher to stay in. So I just blogged. And here we are…
My point is that in writing classes we talk a lot about plot and character development. We talk about why and how. We talk about “Show don’t tell” meaning that it’s much more effective to not just say someone is nice, but to give a story, a situation where the character is shown to be nice and the reader becomes much more engaged and understanding of the character. A lot of people don’t really like to be told what to think or even how to think.
You know why? God didn’t make robots. When we consider the course of human history, we question God’s ability/allowance of the horrors. How could He? What kind of God is He to let evil and sin do such terrible things? What we fail to grasp in those questions is why wouldn’t He? If He just MADE people do or not do things, what kind of God does that make Him? If we didn’t realize that we have the full potential to choose, to act, to will, even to think whatever way we choose, then why wouldn’t we just see ourselves as puppets?
It’s like my kids. They are 4 and 2 1/2. There are days they drive me crazy. The whining. The fighting. Over one stupid toy. Or they can’t agree on what to watch. It’s ridiculous. And in those moments I realize a small fraction of what God must feel as a parent watching all of us making idiotic choices, ruining the joy and beauty of life, quibbling over petty things. I think about how these small grievances can turn as kids grow. They can become vicious and cruel. Adults who won’t talk to each other. Spouses who grow hard-hearted and bitter. Men and women who find ways to comfort themselves, sex, drugs, alcohol. People who cannot get along and use angry, venomous words to tear each other apart.
But like with my kids, I don’t release all hell and fury. I also don’t make them do everything. They aren’t robots and I don’t want them to be. And I’m just a fallen, broken mom who makes a ton of mistakes, before and after coffee. Even in my selfish, myopic character, I can see what they need – they need to learn. They need to feel. They need to think. They need to think again. They need to love and be loved. They need to see themselves and their world and all of history and all future possibilities through the eyes of God, Author, Creator, King.
And God says, I see you. I knew this was coming. I am not silent or blind. I told you how to live. Why do you doubt me? Why do you ignore me? Have you not seen and heard my wonders? Blessed are those who have not seen and believe. I am here. I am working all things for your good and My glory. Didn’t I prove that? Around 4 BC in Bethlehem? I didn’t just come up with that as a Hail Mary (um, pun intended). It was my first choice. It was my Plan A. It was all the plan I ever needed to make. It was perfect. And it didn’t change history… but it did MAKE it.
Jesus didn’t enter history. So, let’s set the record straight. He was and is and is to come. Alpha. Omega. First and Last. The first name in history. The last name as victor of all history. Fairest LORD JESUS. What we do with all that, how we respond, will place you in history, will develop your character and further the plot. His kingdom reigns forever and ever. Spoiler? We will reign with him. Craziest plot twist of all. Even crazier than that time Luke Skywalker came out and …
[insert garbled whispers about The Last Jedi]