In the divine alphabet, O is for Ornery.
And I don’t mean the election results (whatever they are) (I am writing this before the polls close). And I don’t mean the ice-broken trees and power outages of Oklahoma City, or the hurricanes, or the fires. And I don’t mean the resurgence of violent ideologies. And I don’t mean the Blasted Virus.
I mean dear old Job. He was a righteous man, Job was. People who knew him respected his quiet wisdom. When he came into a room, conversation slowed down and stopped so that people could hear what he might say. He treated everyone fairly: although well-off, there was no suspicion that he had acquired his wealth in bad ways. He was generous. He was pious, beginning every day with prayer, for instance.
God did not exaggerate when he said there was no one like him. When challenged with the claim that Job’s righteousness was rewarded by God’s good treatment, God said it was not so. God allowed the accuser to test Job, to take away his wealth and his health and everything else except his life. And, as we know, it turned out God was right. Job’s righteousness did not depend on Job getting a good deal in life.
But what a strange thing, it seems to us, for God to allow those awful afflictions. We think, Doesn’t God care for Job?
A few years ago, yours truly had a blood test that came back indicating something might be wrong. I had just moved to Dallas. I was feeling fit and eager to go on working at what God was giving me to do, and it looked like I could be useful to God for at least another couple of decades. But that blood test—just a standard screening test—raised the possibility that my days remaining might be much fewer that I expected.
I prayed: “God, don’t be ironic.”
And, in my case, he wasn’t. But we all know stories of life cut short, in our customary human terms. The child who dies. The organist at the peak of his powers, laid low by a blood clot. We know also about lives curtailed in scope, as from an injury in an accident that never heals, or from a wrong done.
God’s orneriness is one of the ways we experience his strangeness. From our point of view, a lot of things seem wrong, and that God lets them occur seems just stubborn on his part, or ironic, “ornery.” But the truth is that God sees things differently than we do.
Sarah Williams has written a little book, Perfectly Human (pub. Plough, 2018), about her daughter Cerian. Sarah was pregnant with Cerian, her third child, when halfway through the pregnancy Cerian was found to have a rare skeletal disease that would kill her at birth. Sarah was, of course, advised to terminate her pregnancy; she and her husband resisted and she carried her to term. The memoir is theologically profound and quite moving—I highly recommend it. The take-away is given in the title. Cerian had defects that made her body unable to live outside the womb. But she was still, as her parents and siblings came to see, perfectly human. She was and is as fully human as any of us, and from her short life her family learned much.
God stubbornly—ornerily—persists is telling us that our values are often upside-down from his.
Out & About. My sermon on Revelation 7, “In the Parenthesis,” given on All Saints’ Day at All Souls’ Church in Oklahoma City, is here: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/all-souls-episcopal-church. It was a beautiful service in that lovely church, lit only by candlelight as a result of electric outages.