W is for Watching

It is a truism of faith that God watches over us. But is it good news?
    Yes: God watches over us as a protector, one who preserves us from deadly harm and makes it possible for us to enjoy green pastures.
    On the other hand, there is the testimony of Job. After God has afflicted Job with hideous skin disease, the loss of animals, the death of children, and the incomprehension of his friends—after this horrible calamity, Job asks God to stop watching him. Job wants a place that he can be away from God, out of God’s sight—a place where he could die alone. That, he says, would be better than continuing in God’s sight.
    I think Job has a point. Since God is always watching us, we can never have independence from God. As I have written often (see Losing Susan), God intends to take away everything he has given to us. Job says at the beginning of his afflictions: “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away: Blessed be the name of the Lord.” But later he says: Why won’t you turn away your gaze so that I could die? Job is nothing without the Lord, literally nothing, and he knows it. And like his skin disease, this knowledge eats him up.
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    But God also watches over the cross. When Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?,” what he says is a paradox. Jesus experiences God-forsakenness, and yet, he has not been altogether forsaken by God, else he could not speak to God! Jesus’ saying “my God” means Jesus is still able to talk to God, which means God is still there, which means that he has not been utterly forsaken.
    God watches over the cross: he does not run away. Where would he go? God does not live in a far-away place; he lives in no place. God can’t leave Dallas to run to Paris, and he can’t leave Paris to run to Texarkana. We can’t leave him, and he can’t leave us. He made us and we are his, whether he or we like it or not.
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    God has been watching us from the sixth day of creation, the day on which we came into being. Uniquely amongst the things he makes, human beings are not pronounced “good.” Stars, grass, birds, eels, scorpions, cows—everything else is said to be good, but not men and women. Why? He’s watching to see what we will do; he’s waiting.
    That, I think, is wonderfully humble on God’s part. Although we can never get out of his sight, he is genuinely interested in what we will do. And in some sense we may surprise him.
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    Out & About. You are welcome to the Fall Theology Lecture this Sunday, October 17, at 5pm: “Borders: The necessary yet tragic matter of drawing lines.” Although I hope the lecture will provide a context for thinking in biblical terms about contemporary border issues, they will not be the focus. My focus is on line-drawing in general: that, for us as for God, it seems necessary to draw lines and yet reality stubbornly resists our efforts. The lecture will be at the Ascension Chapel of Church of the Incarnation in Dallas. Bishop Sumner is set to respond, and we will have time for Q & A (not to mention a reception).
    The following week, Sunday, October 24, same time, same church, the “Good Books & Good Talk” seminar returns to discuss Our Town by Thornton Wilder. If you read the book, I hope you can come join the conversation.

 

The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."