Our God likes a good story.
Exhibit A: The sixth day of creation. The land animals are made and God calls them good, as he has called good everything that he had so far called into being. But then the human beings are created, and God says nothing about them being good. The whole shebang, everything he has made, it’s “very good”; but there is no word about whether humans are good.
It’s as if God has set it up so that he has to wait and see how this will turn out.
Exhibit B: After the flood, Noah offers animals in sacrifice to the Lord. Noah is a just and blameless man—we might think him even “good”—and that seems to be why he was spared the devastation of the flood. But the sacrifice he offers? God did not ask for it. God “smells” it and recognizes something pleasing about it, yet at the same time it reveals something that’s wrong inside the human heart. All human beings, it seems, are complex creatures. God decides that he will never again try to start over by wiping out creation; rather, he will see how this will work out with human beings who are mixed up. The rainbow is the sign: God suspends his judgment. He holds himself in suspense, to see how this will turn out.
Exhibit C: God gets into the story by talking. He speaks to Abraham, and that speech gets the story of the whole people of Israel started. He speaks to Moses, and that gets the people out of Egypt and on the way to their own land that he has promised them. But will the people love God and walk, in freedom, in his ways? That’s the question that’s left hanging.
Exhibit D: It turns out that the people run away from God more than they follow him. They don’t really want to be his people. They are like an unfaithful spouse; they take other lovers; they want to be like other people; they even burn their children in sacrifice to evil beings that they take as their god.
So God comes into the story, not just as someone who talks with people, but as a person himself, a human being. The Word becomes flesh. It is suspenseful: how will the world receive this baby?
In the event, some loved him, some followed him, others ran away from him, and some realized the deep threat he posed. Finally came the decisive arrest, the quick farce of a trial, and the execution of the prisoner.
Even in death, however, there remained suspense! For he rose from the dead and was alive in a new way, alive so that he would never die again.
Nonetheless, the story hasn’t ended yet.
God works hard to get a good story and keep it going. We know it will turn out well—there’s no worry about the ultimate triumph of good over evil. But how will we get from here to there? How is the story going to unfold in our life, in our town, in our church, in our country? There remains much suspense between now and the end of the show.
In the divine alphabet, S is for Suspense.
Out & About & on the Web. I have a short essay on Good Friday and the Annunciation for on the website of the Human Life Review: https://humanlifereview.com/good-friday-and-jesus-conception/
Mary Foster Hutchinson has recently published How the Faith Came to Texas (ISBN 9798702514970), about which I have this to say: "A charmer. Hutchinson present this history engagingly, addressing a young person without condescension, as one would share the contents of a treasured chest full of gifts now to be passed on."
On what we used to call Rogation Sunday, May 9, I will be preaching at St. Matthew's Cathedral in Dallas, at the services at 8 and 10:30 a.m. The early service is indoors, the later one on the lawn; both are open to all comers.