Oh, God

Unimaginable; beyond belief; evil in its most twisted form. And not from an enemy, but from one among us, one who went through the same pathways as those whose lives he has destroyed.

(This is a post in addition to the entry in my Advent series touching on the same issue. The Advent post was written before I was aware of the horrific, unspeakable event at a Connecticut elementary school.)

Is it possible that God has sent the famine of His Word upon our land? Is it possible that we have so neglected justice and righteousness, the good things of beauty and truth so that His Word can no longer be heard? I’m not talking about an apocalypse; I’m talking about a land in which we can no longer dwell with one another because we have just what many have wanted: a place without the guidance and the security of the Word which makes the world intelligible.

We argue for gun rights. No one needs what was used today. Go ahead, tell me all the usual bromides according to which guns don’t kill, people do. Tell it to eighteen families who sent their kids out the door for a day at school, waiting for Christmas (oops, “Holiday” or “Winter”) break to begin in another few days. I cannot imagine that pain. I have lost children, not to violence, but to disease. I understand diseases/malformed hearts, etc. I don’t understand this.

But I have a few clues. One comes from the biblical passage alluded to above, Amos 8:4-12. The prophet delivers the message that there will be a famine of His Word; people will hunger for it, but it will not be heard. Why? Because they did not want it. It told them repeatedly that they would have to do honest business, care about the poor and under privileged ones, cease from cheating lying and stealing in all their respectable ways. They didn’t want that word, though they may have wanted the false security of practicing religious exercises of all sorts.

When the Word of God–His ways, His desires, His purposes for creating humankind in the first place, is withdrawn, we flounder. We don’t know who we are. How could we? The Word that created and defined us, gave us our boundaries and our hopes, our limits and our aspirations, our marvelous capacities and our wisdom to do with them what God’s Word made possible is missing. Not because He no longer speaks; but because we will not listen. We create “entertainment” that glorifies more and more violent fantasies, “music” that degrades rather than describes the beauty of love, objectifies all others. And we allow it all in the name of free speech, free enterprise, and free profit. And then we stand in mock dumbfoundedness when a generation acts out exactly the meaningless life we have bequeathed them.

It is an angry world in so many ways, with so many expressions; none are safe from the devastation brought about by that anger. None. Not even the children we send out the door to a big yellow bus carrying them to learn how to use their minds so they might someday make something good and beautiful. Except they might not know what those terms mean, because the Word was not wanted.

We are all well aware that the same tragedy that befell a community in Connecticut could happen anywhere. And we live in increasing fear as a result. Fear. Yet another residue of a world without the Word. In the days ahead news pundits and talking heads will take turns locating blame for what happened. There should have been better security, there should have been tighter gun controls, there should have been, someone should have done, ya-da-ya-da. We all need someone to blame. Maybe God, who we think could have stopped it in a magical wave of the hand. But we can be sure the real culprits will not be blamed, for it’s us. We didn’t want the life-giving Word. And we get what we wanted.

Oh, God.

Advent 2012. Dec.14

There are a lot of good, honest people in business today. They care about their employees, about the products and services they provide and about the people to whom the sell. There are also a lot of the other sort of people in business, those who rob the poor, trample the needy, use false bookkeeping practices, skimp on the products and services, and cheat customers when expedience dictates exposure to be unlikely.

That’s what God hates. He said so through the prophet Amos (8:4-12), and I rather doubt that He has changed His mind. Along with a reprise of Isaiah 12:2-6 and the reading of 2 Corinthians 9:1-15, this word to Israel constitutes today’s Advent reading.

Perhaps it is starting to get old. We look at all thing wrongs of which we are called to repent, and the call continues to come through the readings we have been asked to consider. Maybe we should be glad that we can still hear voices from God to ask us to reconsider our ways. If they stop, we are in deep trouble. This was the threat posed through Amos: if things do not change in the way you treat other people, particularly the vulnerable, I (God) will take it personally. And I will give you a famine, though one of a lack of food. It will be a lack of hearing the Word of the Lord.

In other words, people would get just what they wanted. They wanted religious activities, festivals, weekly services. It made them feel good; it allowed them to believe they were doing what they had to do in order to curry favor from God. But they didn’t want a word from Him that challenged their profiteering at the expense of anyone else they could scam or hustle. If that voice is silenced, it would be so much easier to go about business as usual. But watch what you wish for. If we do not live by bread alone, we cannot truly prosper without the Word from God. It has much more far-reaching impact than we might have imagined; for by His word the worlds came forth. Without His word, the worlds remain, but their meaning and intelligibility will elude us. Without His word, the harm we do to others will return upon us at the hands of those who are just like us, but worse—more calloused, more threatening, more conniving.

C.S. Lewis said it well in Mere Christianity. Either we say now, in this life, “Thy will be done.” Or the God we refuse into our lives and practices, our business and our pleasure will say to us at the end of our days, “Thy will be done.” So as we move ever closer to the celebration of Christ’s coming, let us yet again heed the call to prepare by making certain our actions, our business, our giving to relive suffering pleasing to Him and precious to those who receive from our hand. Indeed, “Let every heart prepare Him room,” so that heaven and nature may sing, and the Word of God will dwell richly and securely among us.