It’s very sad, but God just doesn’t live up to our expectations. We’ve been told all sorts of wonderful things about God: he’s all-knowing, all-good, omni-present, and, most importantly, all-powerful. It’s quite natural for us to have certain expectations of someone with these qualifications on their resumé, isn’t it? So, what do we expect? We want an all-knowing God to be able to predict the future and know everything that’s going to happen. Then, we expect an all-good God to be appalled when something bad is on the horizon. Finally, we expect our all-powerful God to change the future so that nothing bad ever happens anywhere. That’s what we want, isn’t it? And when our God doesn’t live up to these expectations of ours, our natural inclination is to kick God to the curb.
I was watching a comedian the other night who said they tolerated people who believed in God, but any God who allowed sixty million people to die in the second World War didn’t deserve the name. Obviously, God didn’t live up to their expectations. Equally obviously, they hadn’t even watched the movie, Bruce Almighty.
The story of the movie is a classical reductio ad absurdum. That means to take a premise and follow it all the way to its absurd conclusion. In the movie, a guy complained so much about how God operates, that God took a vacation and let Bruce handle it. Of course, everything devolves into utter chaos.
In that vein, let’s assume that God did live up to our expectations and rid the world entirely of suffering and death. What would that be like? True, there’d be no famine, no pestilence, no disasters, and no wars. There’d also be no change, no growth, no evolution, no life, no anything at all. All life involves change, and all change involves leaving something behind for something new yet to come. Growth leaves behind the old and encounters the new, therefore creating pain and loss, confusion and fear, beginnings and endings. The trouble with God lies not in God but in us and our limited understanding of how the universe works…and how it’s supposed to work. The problem with God…is us.
We human beings would know nothing of God if God hadn’t provided us with signs of love everywhere we look. God isn’t a problem for rocks and trees or lions and tigers and bears. Oh my. Every atom of their being is shot through with God, yet God is taken for granted as much as their existence itself. They never ask the question, “to be, or not to be?” They’re not given the gift—the grace—of doubt. Since they cannot say “no” to existence, they cannot say “yes” to God, either.
Our ability as humans to say “no” to God is what gives us the capacity to love or ignore, to create or destroy, to cause or alleviate suffering, to bring to life or condemn to death. What God has done is to have put his omnipotence into our hands. What we imagine is a failure on God’s part is actually our failure to live up to our own potential—our God-given potential to bring his grace into our world. It is, after all, our world, not God’s.
That brings us to the great mystery of the Holy Trinity we’re focusing on today. Only humanity has the capacity to appreciate the very nature of God himself, and it’s only by attempting to grasp the nature of God that we can begin to grasp the nature of humanity—our own nature.
We speak of God as Father. Let’s not destroy the analogy by quibbling over biology. That’s a red herring. Father, in this sense, means source—not just source of all that is, but source of a relationship. Parenthood is so much more than procreation, and the parenthood of God is so much more than the Big Bang. We experience a conscious, personal God—a who not just a what. God is who creates. אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה (‘ehyeh ‘ašer ‘ehyeh) “I am who I am.” [Exodus 3:14]
What is the nature of God’s relationship with humanity? If God were to give us the opportunity to know him, then he had to present himself to us in a way we poor creatures could understand. God wrote a love letter to us in the incredible awesomeness of the universe. God poured himself out to us in the symphony of time, allowing us not only to experience the evolution of creation throughout history, but to become a participant in our own evolution. In human history, God writes straight with crooked lines. By seeing where we came from and the possibilities of where we might go, we see reflected the loving providence of God. And, finally, once all other words were spoken, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
There is a dynamism, an energy, a life force driving creation through time and space and driving humanity away from the turmoil and futility of the physical universe, and toward life, consciousness, love, and communion. It’s the force that drives the Father to create, that drives the Son to speak, and that permeates everything with the potential to become greater than it is. The Spirit of God invites all things to become one with the Father and the Son. It’s the Spirit that endows us, the Community of Believers, the Church, with our terrible destiny. By the gift of the Spirit, the Father, through the Son, has endowed us with the power and the responsibility to create the world we long to see: a world where suffering is alleviated, where the needy are provided for, where the weak are supported and strengthened, where the lost are welcomed and guided, where the sorrowing are comforted, and where the alienated are reconciled. It is the world where anger, hatred, and war are unthinkable.
The Holy Trinity has provided us the with the means—the grace—to bring to humankind that peace which the world cannot give. Now, it’s up to us.