Over the years of writing this blog, I’ve made some connections with other blog writers. I wish I knew a better way to say it, but our vocabulary hasn’t caught up with our lives just yet. These folks are more than acquaintances because we have shared things about ourselves with each other, but they aren’t friends because we have a strictly virtual relationship, if you will. If I could find a way to become friends, I think I would choose to make a trip to Canada first to find Bill Kinnon. Something in the way he writes and thinks, and the role music plays in his life, makes me think we would hit it off swimmingly, that we would find we could trust the resonance we feel in cyber-space. That very resonance is what I’m leaning into tonight from his post about Job and Thomas.
It caught my eye because I’m beginning a four-week Saturday morning study on Job at church, using story as starting place. By that I mean, I want to start with the art of the tale, rather than see how fast we can bring our theological presuppositions to bear. What if we let ourselves begin with, “Once upon a time, there was a man named Job,” and see where that might take us. Bill has given me a great way to think about the story by sharing a quote from a sermon by Fleming Rutledge:
Now if God had answered Job in the way that we would expect, with soothing explanations and comforting reassurances, then the answer to the question, “Is there a God beyond what we can imagine?” would have to be, No. Anyone can imagine a God who does what we expect. The reason that so many people have complained that God’s answer to Job is no answer at all is that they want a God who fits their preconceptions. Job, however, is manifestly satisfied. The God who is really God has come to him and has revealed himself as the one who was already present, already at work before there was anyone to imagine him. God is the author of creation; the creation is not the author of God. This was revealed to Job by the living voice and presence of God’s own self. That was enough.
Yeah, I know I’m already jumping to the final scene before I even had my first Saturday session, but I love the idea that what “satisfied” Job, after everything that had happened and all that he had had to put up with from his alleged friends, was a God who didn’t give him the answers he expected. One of the ways Daniel Levitin talks about the songs that matter most to us – the ones that get under our skin and into our hearts – is they set the stage by offering a recognizable melody pattern and then, when we think we know where its going, take an unexpected turn in pitch or rhythm or timbre that makes us take notice: we remember the songs that catch us by surprise and expand the pattern in new directions. So it is with the melody of theology, with the songs God sings.
Bill goes on to use a quote that wasn’t far from where my mind went:
I am reminded of the children in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe who are afraid of Aslan when they first hear of him. When Lucy asks if he’s “safe,” Mr. Beaver replies, “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he is good.”
The Narnia scene I thought of comes from the children’s second visit through the wardrobe, all of them a bit more grown up. Lucy, the youngest, is the one who sees Aslan and runs to meet him.
“Aslan, Aslan. Dear Aslan. At last.”
…She gazed up into the large wise face. “Welcome child,” he said.
“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”
“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.
“Not because you are?”
“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”
However far I go, or however much I grow, there is more God than there is me. When comfort is my primary need, I love the image of falling into the grace of a God whose compassion exceeds my imagination. When I’m working to make meaning of my life, the reality of a God who is more than the answers to my questions, whose sense of humor baffles my wit, whose capacity for irony and nuance makes my story telling read like a phone book, whose tenacious love outshines anything I know experientially is disquieting. Once I get past what I know to be true and still struggle to accept: there is a God and it’s not me, the disquietude offers room to breathe and belong.
I know you can do all things
and nothing you wish is impossible…
I have spoken of the unspeakable,
and tried to grasp the infinite…
I had heard of you with my ears,
but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I will be quiet,
comforted that I am dust.
“I’ve really got to use my imagination,” Gladys Knight used to sing, “to think of good reasons to keep on keeping on.” The first we were breathed into existence by a God who is crazy enough to imagine us, in the first place, and tenacious enough to not give up on us. As Pierce Pettis sings,
when you rise up just to fall again
God believes in you
deserted by your closest friend
God believes in you
when you’re betrayed with a kiss
you turn your cheek to another fist
it doesn’t have to end like this
God believes in you
Now that’s a story worth telling.
How I wish i could take this class with you Milton!
Now the inevitable question: have you seen the coen bros. movie, “A Serious Man”? It’s the Job story, set in the 70’s. It’s fantastic, really, really well done, and not an easy answer in sight.
Blessings on your teaching and learning.
Just yesterday I was reading an old post of Bill’s that mentioned you and the Masai creed. Wierd.
Thanks for this daily bread, good stuff. PS I was at the Bill Mallonee concert and subscribed to your blog after hearing about it there.
I watched the movie last week (and have it on DVR to watch again). I think it is some of their best work. The closing scene knocked me out.
i love it. i especially like the idea “there is a god. . . and it’s not me”
i think the western mind has a hard time wrapping itself around that idea; there is this insistence that god is part of us, that he is in each of us indivdually and forever – and while this is true, as you point out in the job story, god is NOT what we expect, and, as rutledge says, “the creation is not the author of god.” it is this “disquietude” that you mention that is perhaps most difficult to wrap one’s mind around. . . that while god loves and cares for us, there is also torment, for WE are NOT god, no matter how we try. the gnostics recognized this, and saw that (in their cosmos) the best that they could hope for was to gaze upon god, undorned unfiltered & “unclothed” as it were — and as we all know the “gaze” presupposes the “Other”. . . “god” is an “other”. . .
lots to think about. don’t hold me to any statements i made above, i’m thinking out loud.
good work milt,
Once again, Mitch, you prove yourself to be the best read line cook in America.
I look forward to the day(s) when we can sit and yack our heads off with each other. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it here again – you are one of the best writers on these interwebs and I look forward to each new bon mot from you.
And when anyone dares tell me a woman can’t preach, I just point them at God’s servant Fleming Rutledge. God made that fine southern woman a preacher!
Your friend (though we have yet to see other in the flesh),