In his book Simply Jesus, theologian N. T. Wright writes, “When God does big things, the little people get drawn in too.” One of my favorite examples of this is found in the book of Matthew.
One day I had an interesting conversation with a young man. Although he believed that God existed, he didn’t think that He was directly involved in the affairs of humanity—a belief known as deism.
A man dealing with despair confessed to a Bible teacher, “My life is really in bad shape.” “How bad?” asked the teacher. Burying his head in his hands, the man moaned, “I’ll tell you how bad—I’ve got nothing left but God.”
Do you love God? Just think about it. How can a lowly person draw near, much less talk about being in a love relationship with such a high and exalted Being? It blows my mind. A classic hymn describes God as “immortal, invisible, God only wise, in light inaccessible hid from our eyes.” Perhaps God’s “otherness” explains why we often feel so inadequate in claiming that we love Him.
Almost everyone loves to hear stories of God “showing up.” We feel trapped by circumstances, we pray in desperation, and a providential answer arrives just in time. We know it’s God, and it’s easy to praise Him—for a while.
When I was hiking in a park with my grandfather, our trail lassoed a lake at the bottom of a valley. As we walked, several smaller paths broke away from the main trail. Each time we came to a fork in the road, my grandfather let me choose which way to go. I always picked the steepest, rockiest, most difficult choice. My grandfather sighed a few times, but he took on the most challenging path for my sake.
From a Distance,” the 1991 Grammy Song of the Year popularized by Bette Midler, describes what the world looks like from a distance: “From a distance the world looks blue and green . . . there is harmony . . . And no one is in need. And there are no guns, no bombs, and no disease . . . We are instruments . . . playing songs of hope, playing songs of peace.” The song ends with the lingering refrain: “God is watching us from a distance.”
Ihave a friend who has wounds so deep that she resists the compassionate love of others. Caring people have reached out to my friend. They would give their lives for her (in fact, in many ways they’ve done precisely that). Yet she runs from their love. She fears being loved. The love offered to her is so strong, and her heart so weak, that it terrifies her. It seems safer just to stay in her cocoon.
In a speech given during the commencement of a newly formed missions agency, my friend—who heads up the ministry—spoke of its mission and vision. He also gave everyone a clear picture of its goals and plans.
In the 2013 film Man of Steel, young Clark Kent used his super-human strength to save a busload of fellow students from drowning in a river. Clark’s father, who believed the world wasn’t prepared to accept his supernatural son, urged Clark to keep his great strength a secret. He explained to him, “When the world finds out what you can do, it’s going to change everything—our beliefs, our notions of what it means to be human—everything!”
Christmas cards and nativity scenes depict the wise men visiting the Christ-child. But I think the story is bigger than the way it’s presented. The wise men’s journey is also a paradigm for our spiritual journey.