“When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.” (John 2:13-15)
Jesus made a whip out of cords. How did it happen? He took in the scene and was enraged. He stopped, sat down maybe, turned his fingers over and formed knots, one after another, to make a whip. Before his hands touched blind eyes with mud to make them see, before his hands broke bread to feed the hungry, his hands worked leather (or whatever the cords were made of) and created a whip.
What I realize thinking about this passage is I don’t know the first thing about God. I want him to be tame, to be someone I can understand, someone who talks to me and makes me feel good about who I am and what I am doing. But other times I think God’s not interested in making me feel good, but making me, simply … less. Less of me. More of him. Less of my own self-preoccupation and fretfulness with pleasing people and more of that nameless beauty I find but do not understand in rare moments of pure grace. More of the one who, with his own hands, makes whips but who also later gives his back to be struck with them on our behalf. What kind of terrifying mystery is that God?
For me, that is a God who asks you to follow even if you never see, never understand why terrible things happen—who asks you to follow even without anything like some big thing that makes it all “worth” it. A God who asks you to face up to the very worst of who you are, but who also leaves you with the hope of finding the very best of who he is. I guess lately I am thinking how much I don’t want to underestimate God, to tuck him in my back pocket and thank him for making me happy in precisely the way I wanted. Maybe I get closer to thanking him for making me unhappy if it means it grows me and shapes me to be more than I ever could be without him. There are times when it hurts like hell, but I can’t abide the alternative—being stuck in my own self with no way of escape.
A friend gave me an article from the web site of Fleming Rutledge, an Episcopal Priest, about Mother Teresa’s faith and doubt. The article (worth reading for its own merits), also contains following quote from Flannery O’Connor:
"What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe. If you feel you can’t believe, you must at least do this: keep an open mind. Keep it open toward faith, keep wanting it, keep asking for it, and leave the rest to God…You arrive at enough certainty to be able to make your way, but it is making it in darkness. Don’t expect faith to clear things up for you. It is trust, not certainty." (The Habit of Being, p. 354)
The God who makes whips, the God who is not at all an electric blanket but more of a cross … that God is the one I reach after in the darkness. And though terrifying, he is much more satisfying than the God I fashion after myself and fit in my back pocket. The 17th century poet John Donne addresses God thus in Holy Sonnet XIV: “Batter my heart, three personed God.” Batter indeed. And teach me not fight it when you do.