What if the Sky is Falling?
I received two pieces of rather severe correspondence before I poured my first coffee this morning. One was an online response to something I had written here that was picked up by another website. I had portrayed God as too merciful, I had ignored some of the more severe things Jesus said, I had failed to take Scripture seriously, I was dangerously misleading people, etc. I’ve received comments like this quite regularly over a decade of blogging, so it wasn’t particularly surprising. The other was a handwritten letter about the Canadian political situation from a stranger in another city (There was a time when, upon receiving letters like these, I would ask questions like, “Who is this person? Why are they sending this to me? What’s the connection here? I’ve since learned that these questions are very often futile…). This, too, was rather familiar in content and tone, and could be crudely summarized as a “sky is falling” type missive. Secularism, pornography, Shariah law, feminism, gay agendas, communism… The list was long, it was dire, and it required my immediate action. I sighed, and reached for my coffee.
Usually I find it easy to dismiss stuff like this. My general policy is to keep my personal engagement relatively tightly confined to this blog and to my Facebook page. I don’t respond on other websites that pick up what I write. I know that responding to angry people on the Internet has, shall we say limited value? And I certainly don’t respond to letters from strangers that show up on my desk for reasons I know not. There was a time when I would agonize about how to craft replies that would convince and convict and compel people to see the obvious errors of their ways and the even more obvious resplendent lucidity of what I had written. Ahem. That time is gone. I’m getting better at letting angry people stay angry. Especially on the Internet (how else would the Internet continue to exist without anger to fuel it?). There will always be people who think the sky is falling—that I’m teetering on the precipice of heresy, that our nation is going to hell in a hand basket, that the end is near, that unless we do something now, all that we hold sacred and dear will evaporate in a godless and danmable mist.
Today, however, I had a different response to these two severe pieces of correspondence. As I was gratefully seizing upon that first coffee, I had a thought that went something like this: What if they’re right?
What if things really are rather dire? What if all of the encroaching “isms” and agendas that so terrify my letter-writing friend really are leading us down an unwise path? What if there are important losses that come along with all of our political gains? What if cultures can’t be sustained on the basis of little more than individual rights and freedoms? What if there really are sacred givens to how we understand ourselves and order our collective life that we ignore at our peril?
And what if God really is a bit more severe than the one I often describe and praise and point to and wrestle with in my writing? What if I do tend to ignore the hard parts of the bible, and Jesus’ own words that don’t fit my preferences? What if words like “mercy” and “compassion” and “love” and “forgiveness” roll off my tongue a little too easily? What if I too easily quiet the voice of Christ himself that says hard things about sin and judgment and exclusivity—the Christ who pronounces not just blessedness but woe? The Christ who talks not only about the kingdom of God and paradise but a winnowing fork and, gulp, an unquenchable fire? The Christ who talks about a father who waits at the gate longing to say, “All is forgiven” but who is also prepared, apparently, to say, “Away from me, I never knew you?”
For Jesus does, after all, say some hard and inconvenient things. In case we had forgotten.
And it is, after all, rather easy to say easy things about God.
At the end of the day, I (with at least a bit of fear and trembling) retain my convictions about the world and where it’s going, about God and where he’s going. I (mostly) believe that the sky is not, in fact, falling, and that the hysteria we often encounter is (mostly) misplaced. I believe that God is—truly, mercifully, finally—love and that even while we obliviously and routinely bastardize the word, that love shall be the last and best word pronounced upon our world. I (mostly) find it difficult to believe in the frightening God that some of my critics are so convinced is more real than the one they encounter in my writing. Mostly.
But there are days when I think it’s useful, even necessary, to wrestle with views that we’re not inclined to share, views that we have, in fact, spent long years ridiculing or refuting, dismissing or demonizing. Or just ignoring. Views that our opposition toward might provide the very oxygen and lifeblood for our carefully curated identities. And I mean seriously wrestle, not just in a perfunctory way that allows us to feel good about heroically reaching across a boundary marker before settling back into our cozy certainties. Ridiculing and refuting, dismissing and demonizing… these also turn out to be pretty easy, after all. Too easy. And too convenient.
From a Christian perspective, it seems to me that this kind of wrestling is what love of neighbour (and enemy) demands. We must not close the door to a God who has a history of speaking unpleasant truths via unpleasant means (see, for example, any of the prophets). We must not filter out all the inconvenient voices that refuse to tell us what our itching ears want to hear. We must not become those who have eyes to see and ears to hear but do little of either.
And finally from a personal and, it is to be hoped, an equally Christian perspective, I am convinced that the stakes are rather high. It matters that we seek to understand who God truly is and what God truly wants. I don’t want to be in the business of selling false comfort and cheap hope, proclaiming, “peace, peace!” when there is no peace. The only thing that frightens me more than a frightening God is the prospect of arriving at the end of my days and discovering that I have busied myself with little more than the construction of the oldest and most boring of idols: a God in my own image.