D is for Dumbfounding
This is the fourth in a series on the Divine Alphabet.
God is dumbfounding, and in two senses.
First: there are no limits to the surprising things he can do. We might think we know what God is like, but then he will confound our expectations. I am thinking here of what we call miracles. A miracle is an event that cannot be explained in terms of natural causes. Consequently, a miracle is a window where we can see God at work directly.
But God is, of course, at work always and everywhere, not only in miracles. Or perhaps we should turn it around: anything or any event is potentially a miracle, a “window” onto God. We see a particularly wonderful window when a human being does something that is free and good. Think of a feat of athletic excellence—or a new surgical procedure that saves lives—or, perhaps best of all, think of an act of love that is risky and unexpected. Not that many months ago we in Dallas witnessed a victim’s family express love towards a convicted killer. It was frankly dumbfounding—people were amazed, and they didn’t know what to say, or what to think. God surprises us like that.
Second, let us remember that “dumb” has two meanings. The older one is “silent”: a dumb person is one who does not speak. The more common meaning is something like “stupid.” (The two meanings have a history, but it is an injustice to people incapable of speech to assume they lack intelligence, and it is manifest that many people who lack intelligence speak very loudly!)
God makes us humans dumb in both senses. He humiliates our pride, as Mary says in the Magnificat: he hath cast down the mighty from their seat. Paul speaks to the same point when he emphasizes the way the cross turns worldly wisdom to foolishness. God makes the wise dumb.
He also makes us dumb, all of us, in the older sense of being speechless. In the presence of God there is nothing to be said. We have no words of justification. We have no beautiful words to add to his beauty. Anything we say of God is ridiculously inadequate.
Before the hymnody begins in paradise, before any bird sings, before the most delicate lyre is strummed, there is silence.
Those who know God is God are dumbfounded.
Readers write. Many of you suggested “D” adjectives for God—diademmed (not sure the best spelling, but I like it); deep; desirable (which is true); deadly (which is also true, and channels my inner Eeyore); dreams (both biblical and Jungian, this one). Does God sleep? The Psalmist at one point asks God if he’s sleeping; he seems to be paying no attention to troubles. But if God does sleep, does he dream? In any event—he does appear in dreams: just ask Joseph. Either Old Testament Joe or New Testament Joe, doesn’t matter.
“Dangerous” was also suggested. I think, yes, it can be a fearsome thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Aslan, the lion-hero of C. S. Lewis’s Narnia, is a very good lion, but he is not safe!
Now, what about “E”?
Out & About. This Sunday, February 16, I am to preach at the traditional services at Church of the Incarnation at 7:30, 9, and 11:15 a.m. And at 6 p.m. on Sunday, the Good Books & Good Talk seminar will take up Sophocles’ play about justice and loyalty, Antigone. Anyone who reads it is welcome to join the conversation. (We end at 7:30 p.m.) Incarnation is at 3966 McKinney Ave., Dallas.
June 8-10 in Baltimore. The annual Pro Ecclesia conference will be on the Sermon on the Mount. I am responsible for this, and hope that, if you are able to come, you will! We have excellent speakers lined up, who will explore this fundamental text in terms ranging from the biblical and theological to such things as the sermon in the arts and its economic feasibility. More information is here, and you can register now at the Early Bird rate: https://www.pro-ecclesia.org/