GOD LOVES IRONY. I do not mean that God is a trickster, but he often subverts, stymies, or upends our expectations and actions, leading to outcomes rather sideways to our original plans and intentions.
For the past fifteen years I have taught Biblical Studies in a Christian High School. Prior to that, I taught woodworking for six years in a public Middle School. Yet if there had been a High School Senior award or superlative for “Least Likely to Ever Become a Teacher” both students and faculty alike would have put me at the top of their list. This isn’t even hyperbole. Unmotivated underachiever would be one of the more positive labels you could have pinned on me. It took a conversion to Christ and several strange and occasionally wonderful turns and twists of fate to get me in front of a classroom full of students, some of whom bore an uncanny behavioral resemblance to a younger me. The irony, and even poetic justice, of this struck me nearly every day, and I occasionally mused, and was amused, out loud about this to my students.
Irony is not always humorous, and it goes deeper than altered career paths, deep into the structure of this present reality and into our relationships, particularly our relationship with God. God is not predictable. I do not mean that God is capricious or that he does not keep his promises. Of course God keeps his promises. And as a student of the sciences, I marvel at the regularity with which the natural world operates according to the laws and functions impressed on them by God. But there are no laws, prayer principles, nor “faith formula” by which we may unerringly predict how God must act, if only we do things just right. What God wants us to want of him, is him, and a relationship can never be reduced to a formula.
One of the more disconcerting genre of Christian books is the spiritual “self-help” book. Typically they involve five, or seven, or ten, or whatever number of steps to gain, achieve, or change something, or get God to respond in some specific way. I have wondered what such a self-help book might look like modeled on one of the more ironic stories of Scripture. Maybe the life of Joseph: How to Gain Power in a Wealthy Country and Save Your Family from Famine . . . Step 1 – Act so tactlessly arrogant toward your brothers that you get thrown down a well and sold into slavery. Or the life of Job: How to Lose Everything and Then Get It Back Again . . . Step 1 – Start an argument between God and Satan.
THE MOST DEEPLY IRONIC, REVERSAL OF FORTUNE EVENT IN SCRIPTURE is the crucifixion of Christ. Imagine how Hollywood would have rewritten this story: The religious authorities who importuned the Roman governor to crucify Jesus hurl the taunt, “Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” (Gospel of Matthew 27:40). The camera follows them as they turn their backs, sneering, then begin to walk away. Silence and a pregnant pause. Then behind them, just out of sight, we hear the crack of wood, and a slowly swelling crescendo of epic music, then the camera pans, and there is Jesus, triumphantly standing . . .
But God let Jesus, his only begotten Son and Israel’s true Messiah, die. And not just any death, but by one of the most cruel manners of execution ever imagined. That was not supposed to happen; Messiahs were not supposed to die. No one saw this coming. Neither did they predict—though they should have known—God’s ironic last word, the resurrection. All of them—religious authorities, civil authorities, even Jesus’ own disciples—thought they had it all figured out.
GOD REFUSES TO BE FIGURED OUT. At the end of the book of Job, just before God vindicates him to his “miserable comforters”, Job admits, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me” (Job 42:3). After nearly forty years of struggling to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ, after negotiating the maze of doctoral studies in theology, and after fifteen years of teaching Biblical Studies, I believe I am at least standing on the True Shoreline of the vast ocean that is the knowledge of the Holy One. But God is still an unfathomable mystery to me, and I think that’s how he wants it to be.
Next Week – Struggles with God – Part 3: Love Among the Ruins