Abiding in Exile - 07/15/21 - The Mystery of God

Abiding in Exile - 07/15/21 - The Mystery of God

July 15, 2021

The Mystery of God Rev. Dr. Mary Lautzenhiser Bellon Something you probably do not know about me is that I love murder mysteries. While my daughter Laurel and son in law Kenny were staying with me before they moved to California in June, we watched Knives Out on Amazon Prime. It’s a great who-dun-it that takes place in a big mansion and Detective Benoit Blanc (played by Daniel Craig with a Kentucky accent) must sort out all the family members and staff while determining whether the death was suicide or murder. Of course, in every great murder mystery, there are three major questions which I bet you can say with me: Who had the opportunity? How did they do it? What was the motive? Or Who did it, how did they do it and why did they do it? What I love about murder mysteries is not the murder of course, but it’s the mystery, the figuring out what is not immediately apparent or clear.

Recently, I came again to the Book of Genesis. And I found there a mystery. A beautiful one. When we come to Genesis, a lot of commentators want to say that the opening lines describing God’s creative activity are to create order in the midst of chaos. And certainly, there is an ordering and the scripture affirms that “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep”. But the great Jewish commentator Rashi (1) remarks that to study the first lines of Genesis is not to simply see order being created but to dwell with the mystery of God.

Even the first lines, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth” and continuing into “And God said, ‘Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters” ask us to wonder: the text begs us to notice that the water has already been created because God is now separating it, and of course, God already exists and perhaps the text implies other heavens and earth exist but it is this heaven and earth that God is now creating. It is a mystery. And as we read the opening of Genesis, we can ask the three questions: who done it? How was it done? And what was the motive? And the answers emerge— God, sometimes in consultation with God’s heavenly host as vs 26 refers to, creates the heavens and the earth that we know; God did it through God’s word – Let it be, Let there be, Let the earth bring forth; and God also used the newly created earth and God’s own breath to create. God created all of this because the nature of existence is relational; because love is relational and communal, and, because in the spaces between us, is the longing that draws us toward Sabbath – the day of appreciation, the day of rest, the day of dwelling with the presence of the mystery.

In the magnificent words of James Weldon Johnson: “And God stepped out on space/ And he looked around and said: ‘I’m lonely – I’ll make me a world’. (2)

And then, then, this next part: God makes human beings in a different way than the rest of creation. Heretofore in the Scripture, God creates by God’s word: Let it be, God says or, Let there be. And the waters are separated or the lights are created or the swarms of living creatures are brought forth. But when God makes Adam and Eve, God uses his hands and forms them from the dust of the ground and then breathes into them the breath of life. God tactically creates human beings. It is by God’s hands that human flesh is shaped and by God’s breath that human beings are filled with life. The earlier creations were summoned by his Word but humanity was summoned by his touch. “This great God/Like a mammy bending over her baby/Kneeled down in the dust/Toiling over a lump of clay.” (3)

God has placed hands upon us. And wherever hands are involved, wherever there are traces of the hands, even in the kneading of dough, there is the surprise of becoming. And it is this mystery, of how humans become real, that is central to this narrative. Who did it? God. How did God do it? God has knelt in the dust and shaped us and breathed into us. What is the motive? God’s motive is love.

God becomes real to us as we remember in our skin that God’s hands have shaped us, have touched us, and God’s very breath has blown into our lungs. I believe this tactile memory is the deepest longing that James Weldon Johnson spoke about in his poem about God. God wants to be real to us, to have us know the height and depth of the relationship.

There is this yearning, I think, in the heart of God’s creation, for life to advance and to advance toward a balance and beauty that responds to God’s intentions. I read a book once by ethologist Konrad Lorenz (4) who said that we have not been able to find the missing link between human beings and lower forms of life because we are the missing link. That we are halfway between what God first created and what God intends us to be. In the first letter of John in the New Testament it says, “Behold we are all children of God and it does not yet appear what we shall be but we know we shall be like Him when we see Him Face to Face.” We shall be like him because he knit us together with his own hands and blew the breath of life into us. God said we would appear in God’s image and, thus, that is the journey begun in Creation. That we shall take the journey, through faith, that we shall wrestle and get lost and get found and stumble forward with laughter and tears because there is something pulling us, calling to us, drawing us toward that Face-to-Face encounter with the Living God whose hands have touched our very souls and who knows us, who calls us by name.
[1] Zornberg, Avivah Gottlieb. The Beginning of Desire: reflections on Genesis. Doubleday ©1995 quoting Hebrew Rabbi Rashi, medievak period  Commentary on the Torah
[2] Johnson, James Weldon. God’s Trombones. Viking Press © 1927
[3] Ibid. Johnson. 1927.
[4] Lorenz, Konrad. Behind the Mirror. Mariner Books. 1978