detail of Van Gogh painting of old bell tower

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sometimes I’ll get stuck on an idea. Overwhelmed, maybe.

Yesterday, in the middle of a beautiful sermon –

a Veterans’ Day sermon, made even more profound because at home we have been watching World War II in HD color on Netflix for the past several days so that what being “a veteran” means is especially vivid just now,

about the tension of worshiping a God who is YHWH Sabaoth, the Lord of Hosts, the ultimate commander of armies, on one hand, and the Prince of Peace on the other;

and about how the Bible does not even try to reduce the tension involved in living in the intersection of these two divine identities (as in compare Joel 3:9-10 “beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears and let even the weakling say ‘I am a warrior’” and Isaiah 2:4 “they will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks and no one will study war any more”);

and about the impermanence of the things we take to be most good and glorious and permanent (a reflection on Mark 13:1-8);

and about how this particular dimension of the “already-not yet” in which we live entails that we sometimes need to fight for these impermanent things, literally, meeting violence with violence, despite their impermanence and our awareness of their impermanence, not only for ourselves and our self interest, or even our families, or even our nations, but for others and for the common good;

and about how perhaps Psalm 46 is an expression of this tension, in which YHWH Sabaoth destroys violence itself, saying “be still and know that I am God” to every form of war even down to the last possibility of defense, even “burning the shields with fire,” as no longer necessary, there’s your ultimate Prince of Peace for you

– in the middle of this beautiful sermon, and somehow because of it, I realized:

God’s “omniscience,” God’s knowing everything, must be heartbreaking.

We pray for this and that, for our children to be safe, for an end to this illness or that addiction or some world awfulness, and here is God knowing everything, how everything that people could have done and didn’t do and did do has led up to how everything is now, knowing how everything could work out, and is working out, knowing all the choices people could be making, and all the choices people actually are making, and all the ways things could be getting better, and all the ways they aren’t, and aren’t going to yet, or are even going to get worse before they get better …

Yes, of course, I accept the teaching of the church that God dwells in eternal blessedness, and I believe that Paul knows what he’s talking about in Romans 8, that God is working all things together for good to them that love God and are called according to God’s purpose, and that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us, and I have what a professor of mine labeled that “comic sensibility” that counts on “everything coming out all right ‘in the end,’” whatever “all right” and “in the end” mean to God, so all of that must weight heavier in the balance, but still.

Assuming God loves us, which we do, then this thing that people say so easily about God, without hardly thinking about it, “omniscience,” “knowing everything,” must include more heartbreak than we even begin to know.

detail of Van Gogh painting of old bell tower

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