Where IS that “very present help in time of trouble”? When “the rain falls on the just and the unjust,” what’s the point? Where does that leave us? Are we on our own here, or, as they say, what?
We are very much on our own. It all depends on us. It is up to us. The future is resting squarely on our shoulders, life is in our hands. And. We can’t do it alone.
We like to think we have the division of labor figured out. It works one of two ways. Either we hatch an idea, incubate a plan, cook up a scheme, organize a work crew, buy the materials, pick a day to have a ground breaking ceremony at which time we ask God to bless our endeavor, over-see construction, and bring our dreams happily into being. Or, we pray for God’s will to be revealed to us which generally always means showing us the way to bringing our dreams happily into being. Either way, it’s all about us, and our dreams, and our good fortune, and our future.
As we see it, God is here to help us do our will, or show us God’s will which will be even better for us than our will. But, we don’t have any sense of God’s will for us being different in kind or degree from our will for us, and we don’t have any sense of God needing help in achieving God’s will. It’s all about us needing God’s help in achieving our will. After all, what does Almighty God need from us? As much, it seems, as we need from God.
Think of God as the creative urge for the good. I’m not saying God IS the creative urge for the good. I’m saying think of God AS the creative urge for the good. Just pretend. Just imagine. With compassion and grace. When we put ourselves in the frame of mind, in the mindset, of imagining the possibilities with compassion and grace, God begins to stir within us and we become as God is.
Think of God as the creative will to the good. What is good? Grace is good. Compassion is good. Peace and Justice are good. Democracy for Iraq? Probably not good. A personal annual income in the six figure range? Not even on the table. A new car and cheap gas? Not even in the room.
We pray for the Big Three. Oh, sometimes something of a lesser number slips in, but, mainly our prayers are for one or more of the Big Three for ourselves or someone else. We pray for money, or its equivalent (a job, for instance, a well-paying job, or a career, perhaps, or acceptance into grad school, etc.). We pray for health (or safety and security). And we pray for time. We figure with money, health, and time we will have it made. But, that is not necessarily good. If George Bush, and Dick Chaney, and Carl Rove had more time, well, don’t even think about it.
My point is that we rarely pray for grace and compassion, peace and justice, or any of the other wonderful old values that have characterized the good through time. We think of the good in terms of material goods and services, money (or the things money can buy), health, and time. That’s what we pray for. And, we miss the boat. God is not the dispenser of material goods and services. God is the creative will to the good at work in our lives and in our world and all of creation.
God is the spark that comes to life in us, wakes us up, and gets us going. If you sit imaginatively open to the possibilities of the good with a mindset, a spirit, of compassion and grace, God will begin to stir and whack you a good one in your Idea Haver as if to say, “There you are, now get going!”
But, if we begin to balk, and object, and complain, and say, “Well, what does that have to do with money, health and time? And what’s in it for us? And what are we getting out of it? And why should we do that?”, God will roll over and go back to sleep, and we’ll be no closer to God than we ever were.
And, at this point, you have to remember all you have ever heard me say about ambition, and the profit motive, and striving to gain-have-and-maintain the advantage in all of our undertakings, endeavors, and relationships. You’ll save us a lot of time if I don’t have to cover that ground again. Let’s just say that we will never be as God is with the least hint of personal gain in mind, or the slightest interest in our best interest, or the briefest concern for our advantage.
Do you begin to see how difficult is my task of getting you together with God? Or, of getting me together with God, for that matter? God cares not for God, don’t you see? Only for the good. But, with me and you, the good is somewhat farther down on our list of priorities. First me, then you, or those of you I like best, and then those who are most like us, then, maybe, if we don’t have a better idea, the good. So, God spends a lot of time sleeping while you and I spin our schemes, lay our plans, devise our futures to serve our own advantage and arrange for ourselves as much of the Big Three as we can manage, and snores when we sing our hymns and make our offerings and pray “Oh, save us, save us!” from the great mess we make of things trying to make things good for us and those like us, never minding what’s truly good.
Which gets us rather nicely back to the beginning of this little homily. “Where IS that ‘very present help in time of trouble’?” Snoring away, I’m afraid. Sleeping us off. Hoping we prove to be just a really bad dream upon awakening. If you want to wake God up, and merge God with your life, and be as God is, and become one with God, so that when people see you they see God, it’s easy. Open yourself imaginatively and creatively, with compassion and grace, to the possibilities of the good. And, brace yourself for the whack in your Idea Haver. That’s all there is to it. Oh, and you have to enlist yourself in the service of the idea, and go where it takes you, and do what it asks of you, without any thought of your own gain or advantage. God cares naught for God, you know.
The only thing, and you’ve heard me say it before, you know what’s coming, you can say it with me, here it comes, the only thing standing between us and God is us. Don’t you like it, though, when I cut through all the bureaucratic fandangle and get to the heart of the matter? Throw out the doctrines, and the dogma, and the catechisms, and the creeds, and the confessions of faith. It comes down to you and God. And, your idea of God is not God. You know that God you don’t believe in? That’s your idea of God you don’t believe in. Listen to how stupid this sounds: “I don’t believe in my idea of God!” The same thing goes for the God you DO believe in. Get rid of your ideas and there is nothing left but you and God. And you are just along for the ride.
God cares naught for God, you know, or for you, when you get down to it. What do you think the cross is all about? Do you want to be loved the way God loved Jesus? If so, good. That’s exactly how God loves us. That’s exactly how God loves God.
We have business to do together with God, a great work to perform. Our place is to get out of the way so that the work might be done. We can’t be saying, “Oh, there’s a cross! Oh, there’s a burden! Oh, there’s a dark place!”, and waiting for God to clear our path and ply us with the Big Three so that our way might be easy and our joy might be complete. If that’s our game, we have the wrong idea of us and of God.
“Oh,” you say, “but God loves us, the Bible says so!” God loves us the way God loves Jesus, the way God loves God. Don’t think God is in this with us for our benefit, and pleasure, and prosperity, and happiness. There is only one thing with God: The passionate will to good. “Let justice roll down like waters,” says the prophet. “And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” “What does the Lord require?”, asks the prophet, “But to do justice, love righteousness, and walk humbly with God?”
The context and circumstances of our lives cry out for those who would serve a good beyond our own good. But, there is no recipe for doing that. There are no black foot prints to The Good. We find our own way to the good of our choosing. The good you serve might not look anything like the good I serve. But, there will be commonalities. Compassion and grace, justice and peace, and all the other old values will come alive in our presence and we will come alive, and be a blessing to all who come our way, becoming, so to speak, that “very present help in time of trouble,” for one another.
We are on our own, and we cannot do it alone. And, we are not alone. We are within easy reach of the passionate will to the good in every moment. We are with each other for our own good, and the other’s good, and a good beyond our good. We don’t have to have a plan for effecting it, or think about how to achieve it. We only have to be open to the possibilities of the good with imagination, grace and compassion, and the good will show itself to us, and ask us to come along for the ride.
And, if this sounds Polly-Anna-ish to you, you only have to give it a shot to see if it is so. But, when God whacks you in your Idea Haver, and you are jolted awake with a vision of the good that needs doing, you have to do it. That’s the deal.