Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Where God has been

My biggest priority during my week of alone time is to read, read, read. I have a pile of books--well, now it looks more like a scattering of books--on my sofa, and I'm devouring them this week.

Tonight I started Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis. My brother attended Bell's church in Michigan for several years, so when I noticed Bell's book on the top 100 sellers list at Amazon, I bit. One of Bell's hallmarks as a pastor is his emphasis on context--and I don't mean the ten verses before and after his sermon text. He likes to paint a picture for his congregation of the historical context in which certain words were uttered and scenes played out. His argument is that we miss a lot of the meaning of Scripture when we read it simply from a 21st century sensibility.

That's interesting to me, in a mild sort of way. What is fascinating to me is Jewish rabbinical thought. I got turned on to Chaim Potok in college and still list him as one of my all-time favorite writers. Potok introduced me to a whole new world of theology through his discussions of Torah and Talmud. Talmudic discussions are the Jewish equivalent to reading Scripture with a host of biblical commentaries on hand.

And that brings me back to Bell. In relating the story of when Moses was covered by God's hand in the cleft of the rock and then allowed to see God's back, Bell writes: "The ancient rabbis had all sorts of things to say about this passage, but one of the most fascinating things they picked up on is the part about God's back. They argued that in the original Hebrew language, the word back should be understood as a euphemism for 'where I just was.' It is as if God is saying, 'The best you're going to do, the most you're capable of, is seeing where I...just...was.'"

I find that true in my own life. I can't see God perfectly in the here and now. I quite often don't have a clue what He is up to, what He is accomplishing in and through and around me. I don't know where He's going, what His plan is, how it will all turn out. Sure, I can rely on His unchanging character, as revealed in Scripture, to know certain things He isn't doing. He isn't lying, He isn't being unfaithful, He isn't sinning in any way. And I can know certain big picture things about the future from Scripture. I know in the end that God wins and Satan loses. A lot of the details are sketchy, but that's the gist of it. But beyond that, I can't see a whole lot. I don't know who gets sick and dies and who gets better, which of my single friends get married and which of my married friends get divorced, whose kids become pastors and whose become felons.

But what I can see, like Moses, is where God has just been. I can look back, peering down the dusty road of life, and see His footsteps. They're not always where I expect them to be, but they're there if I look. I can see things like a last minute trip to cheer up my Grandpa in the hospital, that turned out to be God's way of getting me there to see him one last time--and to talk with him about God and pray with him as he gave his heart to Jesus. I see God's footprint all over that one. That one has deep treads, impossible to miss. Other times, just the faintest outline of a holy instep can be seen.

The trouble is, we get so wrapped up in our daily busyness that we often forget to turn around and look for God's footprints. It takes discipline. One friend told me of a shopping trip with a friend just before her wedding, when she still hadn't found the right earrings to wear. She wanted to look perfect, like most brides do. She walked up to a display of jewelry in a department store, and there on the rack was a pair of earrings that were exactly what she had been imagining. She saw God's footprint and thanked Him. Her shopping companion pooh-poohed her gratefulness. She believed in God, sure, but not a God who cared enough about a bride's wardrobe to lead her to the one store display that held the perfect pair of earrings. Some would say she was right. I think she just forgot to look for His footprints.

Turn around. Look behind you. Look at the day just passed...the last week...2005...the last five years. Where do you see God's footprints? Forget about where He is in your immediate situation, as vexing as that is. Forget about where He's going; it's none of your business at the moment. Turn around and look at where He just was. Do you see?


John said...

I think Rob Bell is great. I'm going to have to check out Chaim Potok.

Lori said...

Love this -- a great way to think about God's work in our lives.