Q is for Quizical
A year ago, in the period of time known as B.C. (“before Covid”), I began writing on the divine alphabet, a series of adjectives (mostly) that are both fitting and unusual for God. We come now to the letter Q, and with it, a very odd word.
The word “quiz” seems to have first appeared about 1789, which is to say, it’s relatively recent. No one is certain of its origin. Long before it came to mean a test or exam, it meant an odd or eccentric person.
“Quizzical”doesn’t exactly mean “asking questions,” but questioning hangs in the air around it. Its meanings run from “comically quaint” to “mildly teasing or mocking” to “expressive of puzzlement, curiosity, or disbelief.” God, it seems to me, is quizzical in all these ways.
God is quaint in that he is old-fashioned. He doesn’t fit in with our world. On the other hand, we could say with equal truth that he is future-fashioned, and that he doesn’t fit in with our world because he is so far in advance of it.
God is both behind and in front. In both ways he doesn’t fit in, although it would be truer to say that the world doesn’t fit in with God. God has principles that the world has wrongly abandoned, and he has truths that the world has never achieved. The world looks at God and sees someone irrelevant to the way things are. God sees the world and is quizzical.
While God never mocks us in a cruel way, there are lots of questions he puts to us that are “mildly teasing or mocking.”
Here is God’s first question—the first question in the Bible. “Adam, where art thou?” The man and woman have eaten the forbidden fruit and, having heard God coming, have hidden from him. God of course knows exactly where they are! The question, as “mildly teasing or mocking,” points out that no one can hide from God. But rather than shout: “You can’t hide from me!” God puts forth a question, “Where are you?” When God asks what we have done, we hear a gentle mocking—done with a certain tenderness, in fact.
In this vein we should hear the questions God puts to Jonah after he has mercy on Ninevah. “Do you do well to be angry over the plant?” God asks. Humor runs throughout the book of Jonah; here, by means of a question, God invites Jonah to get outside of his self-pity and have some sympathy for Ninevah. It almost feels like friendly teasing.
God seems to like asking questions as much as anything else he does, and those questions often are efforts to try to get us out of ourselves. Jesus: “Who proved himself neighbor to the man wounded on the side of the road?” God to Job: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the world?” These are not exam questions. God does not ask them in order to test, judge, and punish. He asks them almost ironically, inviting us to enter into a new and better way of seeing things, leading to a new and better way of living.
God is quizzical.
To be quizzical is also to express a puzzlement over a state of affairs. To be quizzical is the perfect response to sin, for the reason that sin never makes sense. “What were you thinking?” we ask, but we know that nothing can answer the question adequately. Consider God’s question, “Did you eat of the tree I told you not to eat?” No one can give an answer that enlightens or explains the sin. The man blames the woman, the woman blames the snake, and the snake, as you may have heard, had no leg to stand on.
Sin doesn’t make sense and the best we can do is blame others.
With regard to sin, the reason God is quizzical is that it is impossible for anyone to be other than quizzical.
You might find it interesting to flip through some pages of the Bible and look for questions that God or Jesus asks. See if you agree that Q is for Quizzical.
Out & About (virtually and otherwise). I am to preach at Our Merciful Saviour in Kaufman, Tex., at 10 o’clock this Sunday (February 14). Then on Ash Wednesday I am to preach at the 7 a.m., high noon, and 6 p.m. traditional services at Church of the Incarnation in Dallas.
Sunday, February 21, I am to begin a three-week class on Leviticus. Yes! Up with Leviticus! This will be at Incarnation at 10:15ish each week, with, it is hoped, both on-line and in-person options; details to come.
Wednesday, February 24, I am to give the homily at the 5:30 p.m. Eucharist for the feast of St. Matthias. This will be at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Dallas, online and also in-person (email the cathedral to sign-up for in-person).
Sunday, February 28, I am to preach at the 4 p.m. patronal festival for St. David of Wales (whose feast is indeed March 1), Denton, Tex.
On the Web. An essay of mine, “On Twinning,” appears in the Fall 2020 issue of the Human Life Review. This is the current issue and, for now, can be accessed for free at https://humanlifereview.com/issue/fall-2020/. At the front of the issue, the editors say some good things about Susan also.