I think we spend huge amounts of theological/reflective energy on the illogical task of confining God. If God is truly God — living to the full realization of that job description including the omnipotent and self-actualized parts — then being confined does not seem to be a realistic option. Nonetheless, we (I'm certainly included myself in this category) work hard bind the omnipotent and define the self-defined. Of course, if we ever succeed at this task, then we have undermined the whole purpose and premise of having a God in the first place.
Our worship and dialogue at Emmaus Way on Sunday meandered down the path of how God fails to fulfill our hopes, expectations, and categories. We are reading the narrative of Jacob in Genesis that seems to raise this issue endlessly. What is it with God's choice to bless Jacob over Esau as the father of God's covenant people? The prediction that the younger would rule over the older twin seems straightforward enough. Sometimes it works out that way. But when God's intent seems to be enacted by the treachery and lies of a dysfunctional family, I stir with discomfort. There are at least a score of ways that I want God to intervene in this story — but here come my expectations again! I'm once again on the precipice of confining God to a job description (one of my choosing, of course).
With both my years of seminary training and long years of church association, I'm well trained to handle these divine inconsistencies. Isn't the answer and resolution to God's odd choices and job failures alway that which is NOT recorded in the text? If we just had the whole story, it would all make sense. No such luck here. Paul, in the New Testament, cuts off our escape route with some very intentional theology written about this exact situation (no slippery metaphors to apply). In Romans 9, Paul explains God's preference for Jacob as merely that — a preference and a choice. I can hear the footsteps of the Reformed theology of my formal education gaining on me!
Paul's quotes God's heart on this choice of the younger twin — a young man who goes on to fill a rap sheet with deceits and manipulations — “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” Paul then adds his own unambiguous clincher, "It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy." There seems to be no unrecorded narrative of character failure for Esau or redeeming qualities in Jacob that make the odd choice appropriated by horrific deceit more palatable. God simply doesn't do it the way I would.
This seems to summarize my long experience as a follower of Jesus and worshipper of Yahweh. God just doesn't follow my blueprint. God seems to follow a personal script. Imagine that! — an omnipotent being following a personal path! This personal script is nonethless frustrating and often seemingly painful for me. God hasn't healed all the people I pray for. Opportunities have slipped through my fingers. Some relationships remain in tatters. Some events are unjustifyably painful. Come on God! And this is just the selfish stuff. Occasionally even I lift my gaze from my stuff and my needs to the injustices of our world. Where are you God?
Don't hold your breath for simple ladder out of this deep hole. As a "professional Christian," I have more than a few responses to the theological dilemmas of an unresponsive God and a God that doesn't fulfill my expectations. But let's not go there. These answers are rarely satisfying (if ever) when I face frustration or hardship. These "answers" still nag me in the theoretical as well.
Oh, it is not that we can't make some statements about God's intentions and plans. I'm ecstatic that God doesn't work on a model of absolute justice — I don't think that I would fare well in such a system. Hence, we come to a preppositon that I hold dearly about God. I realize that this assumption is not universally shared. But I believe in a good and merciful God even the circumstances challenge the assumption. The punch line to Paul's comment quoted earlier is that key factor in God's choices and interventions is not human effort. The fulcrum is God's mercy. My intellect, heart, and confusion rests on the conviction of a merciful God.
What that means in every circumstance — I do not know or I do not see clearly. But, as we discussed on Sunday evening, the mysteries of an unconfined God can drive us to be people of despair — or — worshippers. The mystery of realities beyond our intellect and the existence of circumstances that defy our sensibilities can drive us to worship and cling to a merciful God. Mystery, pain, and yearning are all potential catalysts to worship. The spiritual path before us is rarely a path of understanding and certainly. More often, it is a trail of nuance, discomfort, and relentless trust. There is surely adventure, hope, and joy on such trails. There are few vistas where the whole landscape is visible and knowable.