What I would call the conventional view of God sees him as above. Heaven is up, hell is down. Of course, as modern-day scientific-type people we know that the moon and the solar system and the Milky Way and, what the heck, SPACE, the FINAL frontier! is up. Down is dirt and crust and rocks and lava and diamonds and Journey to the Center of the Earth.
[K said just yesterday that she wonders where heaven is. Note that she did not ask me where heaven is. She’s now old enough to know that I probably can’t answer all her questions (or even most of them) satisfactorily. Truthfully, I was thisclose to telling her that heaven is in an alternate dimension, which is pretty much how I think about it. But then I’d have to explain alternate dimensions and since most of my scientific “knowledge” is from (1) reading science fiction and (2) correcting the grammar of medical researchers without actually knowing what many of the words mean, uh, yeah, no.]
But that is just a preface to saying this: for a while now, my mental picture of how God works has been changing. I often think of the “kingdom of God” as running beneath what we see as reality. Underground springs leading into rivers of grace, moving silently beneath the hard rock and red clay of the everyday.
“God is the same yesterday, today, and forever” to me does not mean his ways of dealing with us haven’t changed. The Old Testament is a top-down story. God chooses a people and then spends generations trying to beat his law and Himself into their heads. Sometimes they listen; most times they do not. A stiff-necked people, they are. “I am the LORD your God! Hey, what are you doing with that golden calf? I just parted the Red Sea for you! You call that gratitude?”
Hmm. Sometimes parenting sucks.
But then, it seems like some of them listen. They abide by the Law. They like the Law so much that they make addendums—not just sentences but whole books. They like being the chosen ones so much that they make sure the UNchosen ones know it. Keeping the Law becomes a formal dance—one step wrong, and you’re disqualified. And it doesn’t really matter if you’re heart is in it. Just do the steps, precisely and perfectly. Even if you have to step on others to keep the rhythm. Those others don’t know the dance, they are out of step, so they don’t matter.
The Law turns cold, demanding, heartless.
Then Jesus comes on the scene. And he says something revolutionary—that the Law is not the all in all. God is. People are. And the kingdom of God is not about cold obedience to rules. It is about someone finding a precious jewel in a field. A secret find, in a field not his own. He hugs the knowledge of the jewel to himself, and tries to figure out how to buy that field. He ends up selling everything else to get it. Or the woman who loses a coin and spends all day looking for it. It’s hidden, not obvious. You may have to go looking for it. But it’s there.
Nothing is as it seems. The powerful, the rich of this world, the well-known, they are not the point. The sweeping events of our time or any other affect millions of lives. And many of the Old Testament events show that God sometimes chooses to effect change in big, showy ways. But Jesus shows that God is also the God of the small, the individual. Maybe even moreso than that God of the Flood or the Red Sea. He welcomes small children. He talks to women as equals in a time when they were anything but. He touches the nasty sores of the leper, the grimy faces of filthy blind beggars. No one is beneath him. And in a small, annoying backwater of the largest empire in the world, he dies a small, humiliating death, dashing the hopes of his followers for a big revolution.
Even the Resurrection is small, individual. Jesus is raised from the dead and hangs out in the cemetery to talk to one woman. He walks from Jerusalem to Emmaus with two of his followers, eavesdropping and then anonymously teaching them a thing or two about prophecy. He eats breakfast with his disciples on the lake shore. And not too long after that, he’s gone.
Then the real fun begins. The Holy Spirit enters the picture, the disciples get inspired, and the whole drama of the church begins. And somewhere along the way, the church goes from being subversive to being…versive? It gains too much power, and it becomes part of the problem. Sometimes it can still be part of the problem. But, see, that Holy Spirit is still there, doing its work on the human spirit.
Underneath the surface.
We live in a noisy time. Politics, religion, science, the Real Housewives of wherever. We’re all shouting at each other, and few are really listening. But underneath? Underneath the noise, the Spirit is still at work. In every tragedy are people who quietly help others. In every political party are those who sincerely try to do what is right. For every disgusting, blasphemous sign a rogue cult holds up at a funeral, there are hundreds who will stand between them and the mourners. For every loud-mouthed talking head on TV, there are a thousand people who listen for the distant roar of an underground spring.
Make no mistake—God is still the God of grand gestures, the maker of the Rocky Mountains, and the Sahara Desert, and the bold autumnal forest. But he is also God of the hidden cavern in which centuries of slow drips form stalactites that no one sees, and of a microscopic universe of bacteria and viruses and amoeba, unseen—not even suspected—by humans for millions of years.
Perhaps a time will come when God speaks to the multitudes again, and Revelation says that he will. Some in every generation believe that “the time is near.” But as the world seems to gets louder, and harder, and coarser, and colder—listen and look. All is not what it seems. God is still at work, beneath the chaos, seeping into the cracked and dry rocks of our hearts, streaming under and around those who serve, rushing in as soon as we ask to be filled.
This song just seems to go with this post. I don’t know why. Gorgeous, though.