Our God is a Messy God

I have a confession to make: I grew up skeptical of the modus operandi of our omnipotent God. His way of doing things just irked me. I am all about planning, forethought, careful measurements and oodles of pondering before I undertake anything – that guarantees that my undertakings will generally run smoothly. God? Well, God seemed just a teensy bit … unreliable to me.

We had explanations for this. “God writes straight with crooked lines” we would assure ourselves as we cleaned up after the accident. Seriously? What’s wrong with Him?
Why can’t He write straight with straight lines? That’s the goal every kindergarten teacher encourages us to shoot for! Are you saying human beings teach their children to write straighter than God can write?

We would catch ourselves muttering things like “Why did God let my kitchen catch fire? Yes, we all got out safely, even the dog. Yes, our kind cousins let us stay with them that night. Yes, the insurance covered the remodeling. Yes, it all turned out okay… but it might not have! It was a shock, and a trauma, and an inconvenience, and a pain! A RESPONSIBLE God would have psychically alerted me to the imminent combustion of that pan of cooking oil! Or He would have stopped the oil from combusting! He could have caused a power outage! Or He could have inspired my cheapskate husband to take us out to eat for once!! Instead, I had to go through this!

Steve Wood, founder of Family Life Center International, is a former Protestant pastor. He tells the story of a Catholic boys’ school run by Carmelite Fathers. The Carmelites prayed fervently that God would bless and prosper their efforts to bring Christ to the world. The school, however, was forced to close. The Carmelites sold the campus to the men who founded Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Subsequently, this very Protestant institution began producing an unanticipated crop of clergy converts to Catholicism, among them Scott Hahn and his wife, Kimberly, Marcus Grodi, and Steve Wood! One might say that God heard and answered the prayers of those Carmelites in a very unexpected way.

Quirky, to say the least. If God had let me write that script, the story would have been much more professionally produced! Tell me, why couldn’t God have just blessed and prospered the Carmelite school, and gotten His crop of Evangelical converts from someplace else? Why did one dream have to die that the other might live? I would have written a happy end to everyone’s dreams – and I’m a limited, fallible being. The schoolteacher in me is tempted to give God a less-than-flattering grade in the “effort” category! It’s as if God isn’t trying. Certainly He could do better if He tried. There is simply no accounting for His lackluster performance in this world, unless….

Unless God is our Father. If that is true, then some of this “messiness” has an obvious, though vexing, explanation. On Father’s Day, we celebrate good parenting, and one very important aspect of fatherhood is a commitment to teaching. A good father teaches his children how to become capable men and women. He does this by demonstration, first and foremost – he walks the walk, day in and day out, in the sight of his offspring. But that is not all: good teachers have factored time for practice into their lessons. And so, a good father eventually steps back and says, “You’ve watched me long enough. Now, you do it.” To teach a child to write, a good father must sooner or later surrender the pencil. He knows that the child will not write perfectly – Dad could write out the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution more legibly and in less time than the child can scrawl out her name. But that would not teach the child to write. A good father waits while his daughter scribbles her love onto a piece of paper, and runs with her as she carries it to her mother, backwards letters, half-erased misspellings and all, messy but tangible proof of her affection: “Wee lov yu, Momy!!!” Could Dad have written a better declaration of love? Of course, but a good father must foster the desire to work in his children, to work just like Daddy does. Our Good Father also must foster the desire to work in His children, and so He uses the crooked lines of His children’s writing to accomplish His purpose in the world. He lets us work, and then He works with what He is given. St. Catherine of Siena exhorted us with the words, “If you were what you should be, you would set the world on fire.” Yes, if we were what we should be, the handwriting on God’s messages wouldn’t be so perilously illegible. We aren’t, and still He works with us. He is, in fact, pretty close to being a cosmic MacGyver, using practically anything we hand Him to achieve His ends. This is where the trust issue comes in. Sometimes God’s jerryrigging looks awfully, awfully flimsy, based as it is upon the poor materials that we have handed Him – we are foolish and irresponsible, and He lets us learn from our mistakes. Yet He always comes through – His children’s lives always work out according to His purpose, although that happy end is, due to our sin and failings, often perceived through eyes awash in tears.

So, that’s our God, the God Who has deigned to share His very name with earthly fathers. He is able to make something out of nearly nothing, and He’s a genius with a Swiss Army knife. That His kids learn, that His kids grow in grace and knowledge and grow up to be just like Him – that’s what He’s all about. Like it or not, it’s just something we’ve got to get used to – our God is a messy God…

… because our Dad is the best Dad ever!


On the memorial of St. Lutgardis

Deo omnis gloria!

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