Thursday 14 September 2017

Looking past the special effects

I made it rain this week. So, if you’re a farmer that was in the middle of harvest and I screwed that up, I’m sorry. On the other hand, if you were hoping for rain, you’re welcome.

Unfortunately, I’m not able to make it rain were it most needs to, nor can I stop it raining in places where there’s too much - it’s pretty much a localized thing, over our house and the general area around it.

See, we decided to re-shingle the roof.  They delivered the shingles one night and then, on Friday, someone called to say that they were delayed on another job.  If we wanted, they’d come Saturday, but would Monday be okay? Of course, I said, sure, come Monday. It started to rain on Monday.

So, obviously, I made it rain. And now that I’m talking about it, it’ll probably rain next week, too. Again, you’re welcome.  Or, sorry.

I hope that all sounded ridiculous from the first sentence. I can’t affect the weather that way. I think we all, collectively, do affect the weather, just as we affect the planet, but I can’t just will it to happen. 

God doesn’t, either.  It’s a mystery to me how some people still talk about how God sends hurricanes, floods, droughts, earthquakes and the like to punish us for something.  Or rather, to punish us for “what those people do.” And you can pretty much insert anybody as “those people” who don’t fit into or agree with what the person making the claim believes to be right. That’s a God to be feared, for sure.

That’s not the God I believe in. Oh, I’m in awe of God, alright, I wonder and I’m amazed by God, but it’s the love, the grace, the life-giving fearless hope that I hold on to. I see that God in the world all around, but I just don’t see a vengeful, punishing God who wields creation as a weapon.

But maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. Look at some of the stories in the bible where God does just that. The Exodus story, for example, is full of moments worthy of Hollywood special effects: a burning bush, plagues, pillars of fire and wind and more. Awe-inspiring moments, to be sure, but I wonder how often we get so caught up in that kind of “power” that we miss the true point of the story.

Look at the Israelites escape from Egypt. Pharaoh finally relents after all those plagues and releases the Israelites from their slavery only to then pursue them to the edge of the sea. God holds them back with a pillar of cloud and fire while the Israelites wonder what they can do: their enemies on one side and an unpassable sea on the other. There’s no way out.

But then there is, because God opens the sea for them to walk through to other side and then closes the sea on the Egyptians and drowns them all. “Behold his mighty hand,” says Charlton Heston’s Moses in the epic film ‘The Ten Commandments,’ as he parts the sea in an iconic pre-CGI moment on film.

Except Moses doesn’t say that in the bible story. And that’s just my point: the special effects have become more important than the point of the story itself. The power of God’s hand becomes greater than the love of God’s heart.

Strip away the special effects for a moment. Then this becomes a simple story of deliverance, perhaps. In a moment where there appears to be no way forward, God provides one. It’s a story of oppression being defeated and freedom being gained. It’s a story in which following God’s way (remember the love, grace and hope?) leads to new life and domination, self importance and arrogance leads to death. It’s finding a way forward in hope into opportunity.

These same people then spent a biblical forty years learning how to be “a people,” and there’s a load more “special effects” to help them on their way. But learning to live together, to care for each other, to believe in each other, to build relationships and be the people God intended takes time, and that’s the point.  We’re still learning.

Maybe that’s a take away from this story for us. There’s always a way forward, a way that leads to life. That way isn’t about power or “fire and fury,” it’s about hope and creating the opportunity to build relationships, to engage each other respectfully and compassionately.