Reading time: 10 minutes
I remember it vividly. It is three months since we lost the girls and I am halfway sitting and halfway lying down (a real art, by the way) with the covers over my legs and my Kindle in my hands reading another book on theodicy. The lights are off in our bedroom but the daylight is peeking in through the partially open blinds. I can see specks of dust dancing in the light. It is the middle of the day and I am in bed. At this time in my life, I am often in bed, wandering aimlessly around the house, opening the fridge constantly throughout the day hoping to discover more interesting food inside, reading, or watching Downton Abbey — essentially training for a worldwide quarantine four years later. I am either trying to find answers to why the unthinkable happened or trying desperately to forget.
I am not far into the book I am reading when it dawns on me like the beginning of daylight before sunrise. This is the fourth book on theodicy I have purchased in the last three months and the umpteenth view I have read about why God allows suffering. Every one of the writers I have read so far has quoted chapter and verse from the Bible to support their answers to one of the most difficult and enduring questions in human history, and everyone seemed damn sure theirs was the correct one. But if everyone was relying on the Bible, why didn’t they all agree on an answer?
The same question came up a few years earlier when my husband tried to convince me that drinking alcohol was not a sin. We had a major argument after dinner at a White Spot one evening when he told me that he believed Jesus would have a beer with friends. I’m pretty sure he saw blood coming out of my ears that night. I couldn’t believe what I had heard, much less that he could admit something so outrageous. So, to settle the matter, I found some books on the subject (because that’s how we settle things in our house) that were written by Christians. I didn’t want to seem biased, so I also picked titles which promoted views I knew I would disagree with. Little did I know that, at the end of this exercise, I would come away asking the Question (that would later change my life) for the very first time. It would be another three years before I become brave enough to ask that Question again out loud.
When you’re a Christian and you start using your head to think outside the box, it can be awfully scary. Thinking outside the box means risking the security of having everyone’s approval of your Christianity, because, eventually, your wonder catches up with you and, like a caterpillar going through metamorphosis to become a magnificent butterfly, slowly starts changing you. You are, after all, fearfully and wonderfully made, meaning you are destined for more than the narrow and unbending ideas that keep people feeling trapped and caged. If only the change your wonder sparks didn’t put you at risk of being rejected. If only rejection wasn’t even possible.
Let’s be honest — many of us “do” our Christianity for other people. We keep the dangerous questions to ourselves and we keep our most shameful weaknesses secret. We don’t share what we really believe, we bury our doubts, we defer to the people with authority in our churches because they are the ones who know best how to interpret Scripture. We acquiesce and we please and we say ‘Yes, I believe’ until our souls are crushed by the weight of performing for other people. We do our best to fit in — to play the part, to play our roles, to hide our real selves — because this is what is required of us in order to belong to the community.
We even “do” our Christianity for God. We go to church because we’re supposed to, we strive to keep our (heavenly) records clean so God remembers we have been good, we read our Bibles because that’s how we’re told to spend time with Jesus, we edit our prayers so we don’t offend God Almighty, we play the trusting and obedient Christian even when we don’t want to because we’re too afraid to find out what will happen if we stop. We’re like those majestic, beautiful lions on display at the zoo who don’t know what it’s like to roam the open landscape freely, with the cool breeze rushing through their thick and luscious manes and the roar of their voices reverberating to the heavens, because they have been trained to behave as domesticated animals in enclosed spaces. As the acclaimed writer Glennon Doyle might put it, we tame our wild to please our Master.
But what if our wild — the deep parts of us on the “inside” that make up who we really are, the parts of us that hear the “still, small voice” of God calling us to be true, be real, be YOU — is where faith comes, where we come, alive? And what if the wild of God is what hopelessly, recklessly draws Him to us?
While we are in the middle of the Easter weekend, I think about the outlandishness of the Jesus story and can’t help but smile. People two thousand years ago were not very different from us in believing that people who die, you know, stay dead. And, yet, out of the tomb came Jesus of Nazareth, defying reality here on earth so He could go see His friends again to show them that our lives are not on a collision course with death, but that we are on a journey towards resurrection, when God breathes new life on our dry bones.
For Christians, the glory of God — His wild — was expressed in and through Jesus, for Jesus is God’s self-expression. Jesus is God’s uncreated magnum opus. He is God’s wild enfleshed.
The writer of the Gospel of John calls Jesus the Word of God, where “Word” in the Greek is translated logos and carries deep meanings in ancient Greek philosophy, such as “reason”, “principle”, and even “story”. In the sixth century B.C., long before Jesus, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus taught that logos was what gave the universe order, meaning, and harmony. Later, the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria taught that the logos was God’s artisan or demiurge, the one responsible for creating and maintaining the universe. After his conversion, Paul taught that Jesus was God’s power and wisdom. The writer of John had the insight and inspiration to declare that the mysterious logos had become a person — a human like you and me — and dwelt among us. No one can exaggerate what a strange thought this was two thousand years ago. The strangeness of it persists to this day.
And, yet, the idea that the Thing holding all of reality together would become human to dwell among us, to be our light so we can find our way out of the darkness, is just crazy enough — wild enough — to pay attention to, maybe even to believe in. People have believed in less crazy things.
According to the Gospels, this Logos in human flesh asked dangerous questions (“Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”) and taught us that God doesn’t condemn us for our sins (“I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.”). Jesus didn’t mince words in sharing exactly what He believed (“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”) or even shy away from publicly crying out His deepest doubts during His darkest hour (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). He was also unflinching in His defiance against the religious authorities who refused to let the least among them have a seat at the table (“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”). To put it plainly, Jesus was no tame lion. In Jesus, we have a model of faith gone wild.
Jesus knew rejection because of His wild. He knew persecution. He knew suffering. He knew the cruelty of the Roman crucifixion and then He died a slow and painful death from it. Jesus — the wild of God enfleshed, God’s very self-expression — executed at the hands of ordinary people who were far more interested in protecting their precious institutions than in championing what the prophet Micah told them (many, many years earlier) about what mattered to God — “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God“. As Thomas Cahill so eloquently put it, “God wanted something other than blood and smoke, buildings and citadels. He wanted justice, mercy, humility. He wanted what was invisible. He wanted their hearts — not the outside, but the inside.” Because, here’s the thing: the love of God and the love of our neighbours — the greatest commandment according to Jesus — can come only from our hearts, where our true motivations and affections lie. God has no interest in the systems we create.
I often wonder if we still have not learned our lesson. I worry that the Church is preoccupied with empire building and recognition in the name of a man who had no interest in any of that. I worry that the Church is more concerned with interpreting Scripture in ways that protect the Institution instead of ways that console, protect, and support the “least of these” in our communities — female pastors who deserve to be ordained, our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, people like me and my husband who are done with the show and the pretense, and the hypocrisy of the praise and the festivals, and are yearning for new, truer, better ways to interpret Scripture. I worry that our churches are, as Jesus said of the Pharisees, like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. I worry that the Church is on a collision course with its own demise because it was never meant for performing or perfection, but for relationships grounded in love, justice, mercy, and humility. I wonder if Jesus were to come today we wouldn’t crucify Him all over again.
But then I think of the Resurrection two thousand years ago and I have hope. I have hope that if Jesus can be restored to life and be glorified — restored to His wild — then so can we, so can the Church, because, in Jesus, we are on a journey towards resurrection and regeneration. I have hope that we can step outside of our cages and break free of the systems that enslave us and the beliefs that destroy us. I have hope that we can bring God’s vision of a better, more beautiful, peaceful world — a new earth — to reality; one where justice rolls like a river and righteousness like a never-ending stream, one where the old order of things has passed away. And I have hope that one day we will be braver: Brave like Abraham, to leave behind the old so we that we can enter into the wild and crazy world of adventure and mystery and faith that God is calling us to. Brave enough to be all of ourselves and all that we are, without pretense, without artifice. Brave enough to have faith — to trust — that God loves us and saves us and redeems us and restores us no matter what when we answer the divine call for love, justice, mercy, and humility, regardless of our religious or denominational allegiances, our political affiliations, our sexuality, our social status, or all of the random outward things that people turn into prerequisites in order to be part of God’s Kingdom but that have absolutely nothing to do with our hearts, nothing to do with what is in here, where fire is catching.
This is my hope.
It is the hope that burns within my one wild heart.
This post was inspired by Glennon Doyle’s new memoir, Untamed.
The reference to being fearfully and wonderfully made is from a beautiful poem in Psalm, Chapter 139, verse 14.
The reference to the “still, small voice” of God is from the book of 1 Kings, Chapter 19, where God reveals Himself to Elijah in a still, small voice.
In the book of Ezekiel, the eponymous prophet has a vision of a valley of dry bones. In his vision, God says to him, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’” See Ezekiel, Chapter 37, verses 4 to 6.
You can read more about Jesus, the pre-existent logos, in Chapter 1 of Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola’s book, Jesus: A Theography.
Paul taught that Jesus was God’s power and wisdom in his first letter to the Corinthians. See 1 Corinthians, Chapter 1, verses 18 to 31.
The quote attributed to Jesus about the Sabbath is found in the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 3, verse 4. The writer of Mark tells us in verse 6 that the Pharisees began to plot with the Romans about how to kill Jesus after He asked this question and healed on the Sabbath.
The quote attributed to Jesus about not judging the world but saving it is found in the Gospel of John, Chapter 12, verse 47.
The quote attributed to Jesus about the kingdom of heaven belonging to those who are persecuted because of righteousness is found in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 5, verse 10.
Jesus’ plea “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” is in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 27, verse 46.
The woe to the Pharisees quoted above is in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 23, verse 13.
The quote attributed to the prophet Micah is from Micah, Chapter 6, verse 8.
The quote from Thomas Cahill is from his book, The Gift of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels.
When asked what is the greatest commandment, Jesus said in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 22, verse 37, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
The reference to “the show and the pretense, and the hypocrisy of the praise and the festivals” is from the song Instead of a Show, written by the incomparable Jon Foreman and performed by the band Switchfoot.
Jesus called the Pharisees “whitewashed tombs” in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 23, verse 27.
The reference to a new earth and the old order of things passing away is from the book of Revelation, Chapter 21.
The reference to justice rolling like a river and righteousness like a never-ending stream is from the book of Amos, Chapter 5, verse 24.
The last line was inspired by the Seventh-day Adventist hymn We Have this Hope.
Comment Rules: This post contains some content and reflections that may be disagreeable to some. By sharing online, I recognize that I am making myself vulnerable to all sorts of responses. If you disagree with any of today’s content and wish to comment, you are welcome to do so, but please be respectful. – J.
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