I’m not often angry at God because I don’t expect much from Him. My doubts, and I have more now than I’ve had in years, are not of the variety “Why did God let X happen?” There’s usually no shortage of flawed people whom I can blame for X. Sometimes, I’m one of them. Then, of course, I’m awfully grateful to avail myself of God’s forgiving love, which stitches up the wounds of shame and frustration by reminding me that the burden of perfection is self-imposed. Even so, it’s hard to hang onto that sense of God’s presence during the long empty stretches of convalescence that follow.
But the other day, during morning prayer, I was taken aback by a sudden surge of anger at God. Okay, I said; you’ve made it very clear lately that our times are in your hand, no one knows the day nor the hour, et cetera. We are utterly helpless and dependent on you to sustain our life from moment to moment. Isn’t that hard enough? Why did you have to make it so damn mysterious? Couldn’t you give me a little more understanding so I’m not dependent on naked willpower to keep having faith?
Too many people have expected me to trust them and then to bounce back gracefully when they take advantage of that trust. I expected better behavior from you, Lord. I’ve run out of gas. If you want me, come and get me.
Now, I know He will. And He’ll probably wait patiently until I’m ready. I just don’t know what to do in the meantime. There are a lot of serious political projects awaiting my attention, but the flimsiness and uncertainty of mortal endeavors saps my will to invest in any of them. On the other hand, there’s only so many hours a week that I can watch fashion reality shows.
As an activist, my desire for “signs and wonders” is partly driven by compassionate anger and impatience with unnecessary suffering, and partly by my own need for reassurance that I’m not pouring my spiritual gifts down a well. However, meaningful change often happens slowly and circuitously. I’m not in a patient mood, these days, but I don’t have a choice.
For example, the past year has seen dramatic movement (in both directions) on the issue of gay marriage, after years of efforts that went nowhere. Civil rights activists were surprised and devastated when Proposition 8 took away the equal rights that the California Supreme Court had granted just months before. I can’t help lamenting the waste of resources poured into this ballot fight, in the name of family values, by churches that could have spent that money helping poor families. GLBT groups, put on the defensive, also had to divert energy away from the other needs of their community–both at home, where workplace discrimination is still legal in some states, and abroad, where gays and their allies are facing the death penalty from pending legislation in Uganda. And yet at the same time (file under “working in mysterious ways”) the California setback jolted a whole lot of progressives out of complacency, creating momentum that probably contributed to the 2009 victories for equal marriage rights in New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, and Iowa.
Now Maine is gearing up for a repeat of California’s struggle. The gay marriage law approved by the Maine legislature this year is on hold, pending the outcome of Tuesday’s vote on Question 1. I’ve been phonebanking for the No on 1 campaign this month, once again feeling frustrated at the effort we’re expending simply to run in place.
“Do you support marriage for gay and lesbian couples?” I ask genially, praying that this limited contact will plant the seed of more radical questions that it’s not my job to ask. Questions like “How did I wind up with the privilege of passing judgment on other people’s relationships, instead of vice versa? What does Jesus want me to do with that privilege?”
One of the gospel readings for morning prayer this week seemed particularly relevant to this whole problem of mystery, effectiveness, and God’s time-frame:
31He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.”
33He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount[a] of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
34Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. 35So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet:
“I will open my mouth in parables,
I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.” (Matt. 13:31-35, NIV)
Here and elsewhere, Jesus doesn’t exactly explain why God’s workings are so cryptic, but I found it comforting that he does at least acknowledge that this is the case. Moreover, he promises that a mustard seed’s worth of action to bring about the kingdom of heaven will produce a far greater harvest than we might predict. His own life is the prime example of this, a humble life and shameful death vindicated by the Resurrection and the worldwide spread of the gospel.
I still believe this, for the same reason I always did: because it’s the kind of universe I want to live in. I haven’t got a better idea.