I heard a rather brilliant short sermon this week from one of our seminarians. He took a text from the Hebrew Scriptures and tied up the theodicy in a very elegant package. The most striking image in his sermon was the plumb line of Amos.. We can’t ascribe an earthquake as an active act of the wrath of God in a modern context, but for him, the grace of God is in the fact that God does not remove the plumb line.
Here is the rub, if we place distance between God and the earthquake, we also have to place distance between God and the fresh breeze.
It does wrap up the problem neatly, but it also places a distance between us and God. If you want the God that is intimately concerned with your problems, you also have to take the God that sends hurricanes. If you want the God that – in the words of Chesterton – looks at each flower and says, “Do it again!”, you have to take the God who strikes down children with cancer.
Against that God, we can – like the prophets – complain about injustice, complain and fight against incomprehensibility, complain about his/her lack of compassion. In that complaining, there is a personal relationship. In the other, we have a neat package. We have a system in place – presumably created by God – but there is a distance between the system and God.
In real life, God’s Word is always a word of Judgment and Mercy. It is the Law and the Gospel at once. When you put distance between the two, you can come up with neat intellectual solutions, but the motion between is really a lie. It allows you to answer questions on an intellectual front that come at the expense of a seperation from the personal. It is the Methodist solution.
For me, I want the God of the Jews. He is mercurial and despotic at times, and we argue often about his behavior when we are having drinks together. Nevertheless, I still like to hang with him even when he is being a bastard. This creates its own set of problems. I’m always having to apologize for my friend’s boorish behavior. But, I’d rather do that than hold him at arms length. Bastards make the best lovers sometimes.