by Kristin Fontaine
Perhaps the most powerful underlying theme in both the Old Testment and New Testament of the Christian Bible is that God pays attention to humans.
Something that never seems to be questioned is the idea that we are ‘in God’s eye’. In story after story, God calls us back into relationship. In the Christian mythos that narrative culminates in the sacrifice of Jesus and his inclusive story of resurrection.
God is many things in both the Old and New Testaments. From punishing avenger, to angry father-figure, through beautiful wisdom, to caring leader, to bestower of grace, and back to a distant and puzzling diety.
What God never is, is absent. People may leave God, but God never does more than distance godself (Job) or withdraw favor (David). Even when God punishes (poisonous serpents), that negative attention still shows that God is paying attention to what humans are up to.
All four of the psalms appointed for Tuesday of Proper 8 speak directly to this:
When I was in trouble, I called to the LORD;
I called to the LORD, and he answered me.
I lift up my eyes to the hills;
from where is my help to come?
My help comes from the LORD,
the maker of heaven and earth.
I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the LORD.”
To you I lift up my eyes,
to you enthroned in the heavens.
In the New Testament we only ‘see’ God act once. When John baptizes Jesus in Mark 1:11. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
In the rest of the New Testament (to the best of my memory) the actions of God are shown either through angels or though what Jesus tells us of ‘his father’
From a narrative point of view, it makes me wonder if a way of looking at the New Testament as a realization from God’s point-of-view that alternating between punishing and praising was not working as a way to get humans to consistently follow and learn in the way God wanted. That since humans both have a need to see to believe and very short attention spans (especially relative to God) that God needed to try a different tack to get and hold our attention.
Like Jesus, we are both part of creation and apart from it. We are affected by our environment like our animal kin but we can also make deliberate and sometimes devastating changes to it. Like God at God’s most punishing, we can destroy the lives of those who are weaker (human, animal, and plant alike) but we can also (much more slowly) repair that damage and build things back up.
Jesus reminds us that being apart from creation does not absolve him (and by extension us) from a responsibility to it. He demonstrates that responsibility by following through with taking up the cross, dying, and rising again. We can honor that sacrifice by trying to be the best that God hopes for us and by remembering that while God’s eye may be on the sparrow, sparrows don’t give God nearly as much trouble as humans.
God gave up god’s Old Testament anger and gave us his son in love instead. May we strive to be worthy and live up to the best of our potential and be a force for love in creation.
All psalms quoted are from: The Book of Common Prayer, and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church, According to the Use of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. New York: Church Pension Fund, 2007. PDF.
All bible quotes are from either the NRSV or RSV text at Bible Gateway
Kristin Fontaine is an itinerant Episcopalian, crafter, hobbyist, and unstoppable organizer of everything. Advent is her favorite season, but she thinks about the meaning of life and her relationship to God year-round. It all spills out in the essays she writes. She and her husband own Dailey Data Group, a statistical consulting company.