theHeart has been teaching a series of messages that take a closer look at the Mandorla—an almond-shaped oval signifying the holy convergence of heaven and earth. Blog contributor Jerome Daley shares how he is coming to recognize the goodness of God's transcendence and mystery as it takes shape in his own life.
By Jerome Daley, Blog Contributor
God can be pretty tough to figure out sometimes. I wonder if God likes it that way.
My daughter Ashley and her husband are just finishing up building their house—building it themselves—and the last step was installing the septic system. That was supposed to happen this week; now it will never happen.
Turns out that the septic field next door encroaches into their land, and there’s no room for two. They have a Plan B with a composting toilet, but it was not at all what they wanted. Life disappoints us on somewhat regular intervals. It doesn’t have to be devastating to be disorienting, and sometimes we wonder what the heck God is thinking.
I woke up this morning carrying that disappointment and wrestling with God. Was this circumstance evidence of God’s intervention, sparing them some larger loss…or setting them up for a better blessing? Or was this just the natural course of events that God had nothing to do with…but will work for good somehow despite the loss, as God promises to do in Romans 8:28?
It seems like those are the two most common ways of understanding God’s presence in the world. I grew up in the charismatic tradition that emphasized the former; I have come over time to be more comfortable with the latter. But honestly, I’m not terribly comfortable with any of it.
We confront situations like this all the time, don’t we? I have two friends on chemo right now—the tumor has disappeared for one of them (my brother-in-law) but not for my other friend who is suffering the effects both physically and emotionally. Thousands of prayers have been said for both of them. Is God intervening…or redeeming? God seems to do both at times, but we can’t seem to predict the results.
God Initiates and Responds
On a hike this morning with my friend Eric reminded me: God initiates in interventions, and God responds in redemptions. One is not true at the expense of the other; both are fully true, and somehow we’re invited to live in the overlap between those two realities. I don’t find this paradox completely satisfying, and that led to Kellie’s input to me this morning!
Listening to me wrestle with the conundrum, she finally said, “You want to figure it out, so you can control it, huh?” Sometimes I wish she was less direct. “Well,” I hedged, “maybe not control it but at least know more what to expect. I want to protect myself from disappointment.” She responded, “I think it calls us to humility”…and what can you say to that? Ah humility, the topic seems to keep dogging me!
So I’m doubling down on the Mandorla by adding two more circles into the mix, at least as it relates to how God shows up in our world. See what you think of this.
In addition to “Intervention” and “Redemption,” I’m adding “Transcendence” and “Mystery.” Here’s what I mean by those.
The Big Story
Transcendence refers to the big overarching story God is telling in the world. Don’t get me wrong, God is seriously vested in my small story…and yours. But woven among all of our small dramas is one Grand Drama: God’s remaking of the entire planet toward a “new heaven and new earth” (Rev. 21).
And it’s our expectation of that Grand Drama and its good ending that sets our small losses into perspective so we can rest untroubled, or at least substantially less troubled. I think this is part of the transforming story that shows up in our small septic system drama.
And then there’s the giant X-factor: Mystery. The unknown. The reality that God doesn’t tell us all of the divine story because we can’t handle it. That keeps God, God and me, me.
The invitation is to embrace humility, to surrender my frantic efforts to understand and control, and simply to worship. Here’s the way this paradigm translates into my responses: Faith, Hope, Rest, and Worship.
The Goodness of God
As true and informative as this may be—and it’s helping me—diagrams are just diagrams. They remain human attempts to reconcile our limited logic with the otherness of God. But within the humor of that effort, there is one essential truth that we cannot negotiate without utter tragedy: what lies at the epicenter of the Venn diagram, that tiny but utterly necessary center: the goodness of God.
This is what the enemy of our souls was gambling for in the Garden, and this is the place where I still find myself vulnerable when disappointment overcasts my soul in darkness. But I will not yield it. I will not release the center.
I hope you will join me in rooting yourself to that small but mighty plot of land and taking your stand on it, come hell or high water.
The goodness of God is everything. To lose our confidence in that is cataclysmic. When Jesus’ disciples found themselves at the breaking point of logical frameworks, Peter uttered the inevitable: Where else can we go, Lord? We don’t get it…but You are the only thing we can hold onto. You are the one thing we know is True in the tumult of this world (John 6:60-69).
From this secure center, I can lean into these multiple realities, these paradoxes. I can lean as needed into God’s willingness to intervene, God’s commitment to redeem, God’s triumph to transcend, and God’s delight to mystify.
These powerful ideas help me let go of the striving and fall into the good, safe arms of God Himself.