Life can sometimes feel like a game. The ancients saw gods as toying with us, rolling dice to decide our fate, making bizarre bets with one another about our choices. Many people still see the Lord God this way, imagining that he is making some kind of sport from the ups and downs of our lives. A flighty, unpredictable God who is made in our image, instead of one who has allowed his beauty to be reflected in ours.
God is not playing a game with us, whether we are pawns or bishops. This is no cosmic chess match, though our capitalist driven-media and consumerist lifestyles in the west might entice us to think so, pitting winners against losers and dangling carrots of worldly success before our twitching noses. Sometimes we live as though we were participants in an international snakes and ladders tournament. We struggle to climb the board, thinking that winning is what matters, taking our turns and occasionally sliding down a cunningly placed serpent, or rising up random rungs. Our happiness and too often our faith, rests on this false cosmology; some win, some lose, I’ll have better luck next time, and when I win the lottery of life, this is what I will do. But this is a foolish kind of dreaming. Real dreams, ones that are worth pursuing, are about who we are, not what we can gain.
The truth is that our God cares beyond what is sensible, beyond limits, to the point where he lets us participate in our own redemption. He cares about the real you, the real me, the eternal self that is hidden in Christ. The Lord knows that when we get our being right, when we know who we are in him, our doing right follows supernaturally. “If you love me,” says Jesus, “You will keep my commandments.”(John 14:15 ESV) If we get the first part clear, the second will flow out of us.
Because of this, our God does not want us to be successful on our own terms. Nor does he want us succumbing to this rollercoaster of fortunes as if it mattered, when the bedrock of our lives needs to be set firm in him and him alone. It does not warm his heart if we are made CEO of a large corporation, it does not bring a smile to his face when we get accepted into the golf club. His grin breaks out when we start a difficult day by thanking him or give him praise in our seemingly insurmountable problems. His heart swells with pride when we stop to speak to the homeless person on the corner or leave our homes to nurse those in a crisis zone. And this unfathomable heart is warmed with overflowing compassion when we stand firm in our faith, singing our love to him on our way to the bankruptcy court or refusing to curse him when another child succumbs to malaria. And it is these actions, these attitudes, along with prayer, that change the world, bringing it closer to him, because through each person of loving integrity, through each offered intercession, God’s glory is reflected and his love worked into the world like yeast. Jesus was forever teaching his disciples that the kingdom comes by process, by stealthy growth. Most Christians will change the world this way. As Dennis Lennon wrote: “Significance and value are not had by snatching at them, but by following our Lord into powerful obscurity, working quietly in the world as seed, yeast and salt.” (page 42, Weak Enough for God to Use).
We are not playing a game, then, but fighting a long campaign of light against darkness. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are already on the winning side. We are God’s plan to make all things new. But here’s the rub – winning often looks like losing. Winning is sometimes holding out in a long battle against illness without losing our faith. Winning is sometimes standing firm on truths of God-given scripture after experiencing a terrible loss. Winning is occasionally more dramatic – being beheaded, or nailed to a cross. Our victories will all look different, and many times not be the world’s idea of success. They are won by endurance, by resisting, by holding on. They are won far more often in poverty, depression, sickness and injustice than they are on yachts or in boardrooms, won in Thoreau’s “lives of quiet desperation” that the majority of us lead.
God’s kind of success is the reconciliation of all things to himself. A drawing in, a reaching out with holy eternal arms to encircle all life and bring it to the centre. It is the “oneing,” as Mother Julian put it, of us all, of the whole of creation. This is the work we are all invited to participate in, a holy co-operative. This is why we pray, “Thy Kingdom Come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
© Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2015
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