Thursday, November 10, 2016

Searching for the Unsearchable, Scrutinizing the Inscrutable

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

God, I think of you on my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night. - Psalm 63:6

O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! - Romans 11:33-34

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 122; 1 Kings 6; John 13:18-30

The two-year reading texts give some interesting snapshots of moments in the history of God and God's people. The psalm celebrates Jerusalem as the place where "the tribes go up," a holy place before the temple was ever built. 1 Kings 6 gives some of the details of Solomon's construction of the temple, so revered that stones were finished far away so the sound of hammers wouldn't disturb the air. Long after that temple was destroyed and shortly before its replacement would also be destroyed, John 13 relates a fateful step in the pivotal night that led to the crucifixion and death of Jesus, "the Word made flesh." Three scenes, set within a short distance of each other, reflecting very different events and contexts and emotions. Yet all part of the unfolding story of God and God's people.

I think each of us can point to moments in our own lifetimes when we mentally take snapshots of the way things are, and what we think they mean. And we may try to guess where God's influence is, how to interpret the moment in light of God's story. Did God cause this event to happen? Allow it? Is the current development something God approves of, or disapproves of? How does God call faithful people to respond? Our current post-election moment is a good example of that. Supporters of one candidate are relieved and hopeful; supporters of the other crushed and depressed. Protesters have expressed their anger. Hate groups have been emboldened to speak out more loudly and publicly. God's name and God's ways have been invoked all around to make the argument that God is on the side of the opinion-holder. God's blessing and God's wrath are both expected. Prosperity and doom are both predicted.

Today, the verses chosen for the day encourage us to pray and ponder at length. How is God present? What word are we to hear? How shall we follow? At the same time, we're reminded that we will never get a complete grasp of God's ways. We can search and scrutinize, but we'll find that we're after the unsearchable and inscrutable. We might hear this as bad news, but Paul seems to be celebrating (even in the context of Romans 11's focus on the long, painful journey of the Jewish people) that what we're seeing is really the immeasurable extent of God's riches and wisdom and knowledge. It's not just that God is hiding away to be mysterious or cruel. It's that there is far more goodness to God than we can access or imagine.

It's in this context that we all have hope. For me, it's too early to accept a glib "God's in charge" comment, or a call to "let's all show our unity now," especially so soon after a long, vicious political campaign that drove deep, painful wedges among us. There needs to be time for healing. There needs to be acknowledgement of the pain - on all sides - and regrettable actions all around. There needs to be a chance to search and scrutinize and make sense of how we got here, and what might come next, and what we feel called to do about it. None of this is to doubt or deny that God is in charge, and that everything we do falls within God's ways. We'll simply be doing what God's people have always done, wrestling with the events that happen in our own time and place, seeking understanding and a faithful response.

We will fail, scripture says, to totally figure out what God's up to. But there's value in the searching and scrutinizing. It helps us to learn something more about God's riches and wisdom and knowledge, even if we can never learn it all. It's not a lack of faith, but a demonstration of faith, that wades ahead into unexpected places, expecting to find God there.

For America this week, and for myself and those close to me, I pray for the time and space to study God's word and meditate on it wherever we are, for the courage to search and scrutinize, and for the faith of a whole community who will bear with each other as we each seek to discern where we are now, where we're going, and how we're going to make the journey together. And I pray that, as much as possible, God will make the way clear, and will guide us toward a future where righteousness and justice and love are easier to find than they are today.

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