’m sure the preacher was embarrassed by what he said. But, I’ll have to admit, I was delighted with his mistake.
When you go to as many committee meetings as I do, you begin to look for anything that will help to break up the monotony of sterile agendas and financial statements. There is, as any experienced attendee knows, an art to surviving committees.
Some people bring along news magazines that they discreetly hide beneath the handouts, hoping everyone else will think they are diligent about last meeting’s minutes instead of this week’s Time. Others play with the ice water on the table: consuming enough of that soon gives them an excuse to leave the room.
I find my diversion at committees in listening to the words behind the words that people say—a type of free-association game in which I have permission to go on all kinds of delightful mini-vacations while everyone else proceeds with the business at hand. And the pastor leading out in the devotional at this all-day conference executive committee handed me a one-way ticket to enjoyment.
He was discoursing on the truth that God is not overwhelmed by all the things that seem like insurmountable problems to us. Our financial circumstances may be a problem to us, but not to God. Our anxiety may wreck our day and torture us with worry, but it doesn’t disturb the tranquility of God. The problem of spreading the gospel to all the world is ultimately no problem to Him.
It was when the pastor invited us to bow our heads for prayer that the wonderful Freudian slip occurred, for he began by saying, “Dear heavenly problem—Father!” I’m sure I wasn’t the only one in the room smiling at the miscue, but because it was during prayer we didn’t open our eyes to see how red his face was getting.
“Dear heavenly problem . . .”
What an intriguing thought! I can’t remember a thing of what happened during the rest of that seven-hour meeting, but I remember that phrase: “Dear heavenly problem.”
What an apt summary, in just three words, of the whole human response to the mystery and the majesty of God.
We’ve been taught since we were children to think of God as deserving of our respect and even our affection, and so, politely, we address Him as “dear.” And because His dwelling isn’t yet with us, we place Him in His heavenly abode.
But it still remains profoundly true that for most of humanity, for most of Christianity, even for many of us, God remains a problem with whom we struggle in some sense every day that we live. We want Him to be someone other than the one He says He is.
We insist that He be completely knowable, that we should have the right to push Him into some deep corner of the universe and keep Him there until He answers all our questions to our satisfaction. We want a God who is blandly predictable, not one whose affections and actions continue to amaze us.
We want a God without ambiguities, about whom there aren’t any everlasting questions, or at least no important ones. We want a God who can be quickly sketched and simply grasped, a God who doesn’t write outside the lines. We are fundamentally unprepared for a God who insists on living outside the frame we wish to hang Him in. He is for us not just a problem, but in some sense, “the problem”—the One whose very existence can’t be acknowledged without setting into motion a thousand questions about the claims He has upon our lives.
Thus it is that Scripture calls us, again and again, to humble ourselves beneath the mighty hand of God, to surrender, as best we can, all our neat requirements to His continuing otherness. In worship—in the daily and weekly recitation of our creatureliness—we learn to ask the questions that are formed in faith, not by our native arrogance or cynicism. As I lay myself low in the dust before the One who sometimes seems my greatest problem, I discover that I am healed of my incessant need to know and my demand that all my questions must be answered now.
In the arc of an eternity lighted by His presence, there will be time—and love—enough to sort out many things.
Bill Knott is an associate editor of the Adventist Review.