Sunday, June 21, 2015

Is God a Bully?

12th Sunday OT - Year B - 2015

          God seems like a big old bully sometimes, don’t you think? 
          Here’s Job – literally his whole world had fallen apart.  Everything, everyone, taken away.  Even the friends he had left who came to comfort him were so incompetent in empathy and compassion that he sends them away.  And when God finally does show up, it seems like He’s working really hard to ‘put Job in his place’.  ‘Who are you to question me – the Creator – the most powerful – who are you to dare to question me?  I’m the one who calls forth the storm itself – I decide where the sea goes; I’m the one who decides where there will be light and darkness.  Who are you to question me?’  God seems like a big old bully…
          …so its not surprising that Jesus seems to follow suit in today’s Gospel. 
          There’s Jesus’ friends – following Him all over the place – working hard to keep up, and do whatever He tells them.  And this particular night he tells them to get in a boat to get to the other side through the night.  OK – once again, the follow Him wherever He points.  Lo and behold a storm blows up in the night – and this is a terrible storm.  We’re not talking about huge cruise ships with stabilizers and plenty of reason to believe it won’t sink – no, we’re talking about little john boats that would make most of boats docked at the lake look like sea-faring vessels.  So of course they’re scared when the storm gets so crazy that they start taking on water.  Of course they woke Jesus up – they didn’t want Him to get killed in the raging storm, and they probably needed some help bailing the water so they wouldn’t sink.  Sure Jesus calms the storm – but then it seems like He turns into a big ole’ bully, criticizing them:  ‘Why were you afraid – I can’t believe you’re such babies!  Don’t you have any faith yet?  Get with the program y’all – you seem to have been missing it all this time – get some faith already and leave me alone.’
          There doesn’t seem to be a lot of compassion or comfort there – it just seems like Jesus is being a big ole bully – rubbing their weakness and fear in their faces – making fun of it even. 
          //
          We’re no strangers to storms in this life, are we?  Around here, a storm can turn up nearly out of the blue and in minutes bring an entire community to its knees.  How long ago was the storm that hit West Liberty?  The destruction there was so terrible that they are still rebuilding. 
But those aren’t the only storms we’re familiar with, are they?  I found a lump…the doctor found something in my blood test…I can’t walk, I can’t breathe, I can’t see.  I lost my job…the mortgage is due and I can’t pay it…my car died and the repairs are more than I can afford.  I can’t remember the last time I had a conversation with my husband or wife that wasn’t a fight…there is no intimacy, trust, or teamwork in our marriage.  The hitting and yelling in my home won’t stop.  My son or daughter, brother/sister, niece, nephew, aunt, uncle, or cousin is lost in drug addiction or crime – and there’s nothing I can do.  This new priest the diocese sent us just doesn’t get us, and seems to be changing everything that matters most to me…
We’re no strangers to storms…and so I bet that sometimes whatever it is we see God doing or hear God saying in response might seem to us, too, like he’s a big ole meanie. 
//
Was God rebuking Job – correcting him and putting him in his place?  Was Jesus scolding the disciples in the boat?  Was he accusing them, punishing them, making them seem small for the purpose of humiliating them in the face of their heartache and fear?  Well…that’s one way to see it.  And there are times when most of us feel like that’s what God is doing or saying to us…
…but there’s something else really going on, isn’t there? 
//
I was once caught in a violent storm in a fairly public place where we all had to seek shelter in a basement.  There was this dad among us with two small children – all the noise and commotion had really scared his little ones.  Truth be told, they were terrified – almost out of control with fear.  As I watched, this dad did the most natural thing in the world, I suppose – and it had a profound impact on me.
He scooped his little ones up in his arms and began to talk to them.  “Why are you scared,” he asked.  “See these big, thick concrete walls,” he said, as he pushed against them.  “Daddy’s pretty strong, but I can’t even knock them over.  They’ll protect us.”  One of the little one’s started to squirm, and Dad held him even tighter, somehow getting those little arms nestled safely in his chest.  “See how tightly I’m holding you?  The storm can’t hurt you while I’ve got you – nothing on this earth is strong enough to hurt you when I’m protecting you…Don’t you believe that Daddy can protect you?”  It only took a few minutes of this reassurance to calm the little ones down.  Soon enough they were laughing and pointing out to Daddy the funny painting on the basement wall, and calmly and curiously asking questions about wind and thunder & lightning. 
//
That Dad was pointing to his strength and wisdom to calm his little ones while the storm raged around them.  His questions – ‘why are you scared’ and ‘don’t you believe Daddy can protect you?’ – these were questions of accusation, they weren’t intended to demean or diminish the little ones.  Those were questions of a loving Dad trying to calm, and reassure, and comfort.  That tight embrace wasn’t to harm or hurt – but to give a real tangible sense of security in the middle of the storm.
//
Whatever storms we’re facing today – and whatever we see or hear God saying and doing – He’s not bullying, belittling, or badgering us in our weakness.  No – whatever God is doing (or not doing) – it’s all His way of being our Daddy.  Reminding us that in His tender and loving embrace, nothing will truly harm us. 
“Why are you terrified?  Do you not yet have faith?
“Why are you scared?  Don’t you believe that Daddy can protect you?”
The storms of life will rage all around us – but because Jesus loves us, we’re held in the tender embrace of the One who can protect us because all of it is subject to Him.  Even when we can’t understand, even when we wonder why the storm around us isn’t silenced – nothing can remove us from God’s love and care. 

“Why are you scared?  Don’t you believe that Daddy can protect you?  See how tightly I’m holding you?  The storm can’t hurt you while I’ve got you – nothing on this earth is strong enough to hurt you when I’m protecting you.”  

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