Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Paradoxically Speaking

So what am I saying, you are wondering? How can God be both-and rather than either-or. Or why would he, is maybe the better question, since God can be anything he likes. He’s God, after all.

Why would God be this way, though? Why would he choose to be a tiger-lamb? Why would he be the God of the parable of the talents and the God of the prodigal son? Why would he be heaving a person into outer darkness for burying God’s money to protect it, on the one hand, and welcoming home and forgiving a person who had squandered half of God’s wealth, on the other?

Does this make sense to you? Doesn’t it sound more like standup comedy than theological truth? Doesn’t it sound like the joke about the eggs? The one in the movie Annie Hall: “This guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, ‘Doc, uh, my brother's crazy; he thinks he's a chicken.’ And, uh, the doctor says, ‘Well, why don't you turn him in?’ The guy says, ‘I would, but I need the eggs.’”

Or doesn’t it sound more like Zen Buddhism than your father’s Christianity? For example, here’s a koan: “Chokan had a very beautiful daughter named Seijo. He also had a handsome young cousin named Ochu. Joking, he would often comment that they would make a fine married couple. Actually, he planned to give his daughter in marriage to another man. But young Seijo and Ochu took him seriously; they fell in love and thought themselves engaged. One day Chokan announced Seijo's betrothal to the other man. In rage and despair, Ochu left by boat. After several days journey, much to his astonishment and joy he discovered that Seijo was on the boat with him!

“They went to a nearby city where they lived for several years and had two children. But Seijo could not forget her father; so Ochu decided to go back with her and ask the father's forgiveness and blessing. When they arrived, he left Seijo on the boat and went to the father's house. He humbly apologized to the father for taking his daughter away and asked forgiveness for them both.

"’What is the meaning of all this madness?’ the father exclaimed. Then he related that after Ochu had left, many years ago, his daughter Seijo had fallen ill and had lain comatose in bed since. Ochu assured him that he was mistaken, and, in proof, he brought Seijo from the boat. When she entered, the Seijo lying ill in bed rose to meet her, and the two became one.

“Zen Master Goso, referrring to the legend, observed, ‘Seijo had two souls, one always sick at home and the other in the city, a married woman with two children. Which was the true soul?’"

Why, for example, does Jesus tell his disciples that God withholds himself from some people and reveals himself to others? Isn’t God just? Isn’t he supposed to be just? Isn’t he supposed to be available to everybody, no matter his race, color, creed, national origin, or eye color? Isn’t God an equal opportunity God?

Why does God have particular affection for King David, a man who commits adultery and commits murder and has a houseful of sex slaves, or more euphemistically, concubines?

Why does God say to Adam that he will surely die if he eats the apple, and when Adam eats the apple, he doesn’t die?

How is it possible for a good God to send an evil spirit into Saul? Isn’t God good? Isn’t the spirit he sends the Holy Spirit? Versus the spirit that the devil sends, which is an evil spirit? Are God and the devil two faces of the same being?

What kind of God do we have here, after all? Is he a fair God or an unfair God? Is he a judgmental God or a forgiving God? Is he a kind-hearted God or a hard-hearted God? Is he here to support and encourage us, or is he here to pull our feet out from under us? Is he capricious, or is he steady and dependable? Is he destructive or creative?

Will the true God please stand up? Will the real God please raise his hand?

But I think he has, don’t you? I think he has raised his hand. I think he has stood up. And he is Jesus. And Jesus has sacrificed himself rather than harm anyone. He has raised the dead and healed the sick and spoken encouragement to the oppressed, spoken good news to the oppressed.

But still there is paradox, right? Still there is the parable of the talents. Still there is the threat or promise of judgment. Still Jesus hid himself from the priestly class and God the Father and God the Holy Spirit helped to hide him from the priestly class. To them and to the privileged, he was blasphemous, while to the people, he was holy. He was God.

Why was he not God to everyone? Why didn’t he want to allow everyone to experience him as God? Why didn’t he want to bring hope and love and forgiveness to everyone? Maybe the oppressors don’t deserve it. Maybe their souls are so foul that Jesus will have nothing to do with them.

Then there is the camel and the needle’s eye. And so for even the privileged there may be possibility. But one guesses they would need to change to get access to that possibility. They would need to actually accept the invitation to the wedding feast.

They’d actually have to give up their independence. Their stand-offishness. Their haughtiness. Their self-sufficiency. Their self-righteousness. Their privacy. Their solitude. Their hard-heartedness. They’d actually have to want to see Jesus. To experience him. As God. As present. They’d actually have to want to depend upon him somehow. To sit at his feet like Mary. To run to find themselves a place in a tree along his path so that they might see him over the heads of the crowd.

I say they. I mean they. But I also mean we.

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