Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them…
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. (Psalm 111:2, 10)
READING PSALM 111, the takeaway is that we live and breathe as guests in this majestic, amazing, and wonder-full world which God — through incredible design and power — has made. A lovely psalm, it possesses bright, crisp, light-bodied tones of inspiration and praise (as if I’m describing a wine). But a certain lingering sharpness in the finish gives the psalm an austere complexity.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, we’re told. Why should we fear a God who loves us? Some offer instead “respect” or “revere” as suitable substitutions. Meh. Those words pale quickly against the splendor of the rest of the psalm. Yes, God loves us — even invites us to linger in the green pastures beside still waters of Psalm 23. But one needn’t look far from there to see the shadowy valley of death. And therein is the rub. If God is all good and all powerful, how is it that bad things happen?
Cancers. Disorders. Acts of random violence. Wars. Pandemics. Asteroids. Why do these things happen? God only knows. We can ask, but I don’t advise holding your breath for an answer.
Befuddled guests of God
In her essay Small Wonder, Barbara Kingsolver says, “God is frightful, God is great — you pick. I choose this: God is in the details, the completely necessary miracles sometimes tossed up as stars to guide us.”
Yes, the Master Designer of it all loves us. And yes, there are dangers, toils, and snares. And yes, ours is not to know the reason why. And yes, it doesn’t make sense. Therefore, if we are guests of God in this creation, we are befuddled ones and it would be understandable to experience some concern about its host.
So what if instead of focusing on the aforementioned fear of God, we considered the wisdom of God?
Wisdom is in the not knowing, it is said. Not in the answers as much as in the questions. The very seat of understanding, yet hidden from the eyes of the living, said the mystic. Wisdom results from living with openness to the questions and being available to the steady stream of wonder always around us whether or not we perceive it. Not that the answers will ever come. In this life. But asking the questions and being at peace with the unanswerable is the beginning of wisdom.
The open door to gratitude
We are left standing in the gap. We cannot understand, but we can take hold of the handle of trust. Wisdom then, becomes for us the open door to gratitude. In our life — both what we know of it here and what we can only trust in hereafter — we are greeted by the host.
I like the words of another writer on this topic — Annie Dillard — who in her Pulitzer Prize winning book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek concluded: “One day it occurs to you that you must not need life. . . .You have finally understood that you’re dealing with a maniac. I think that the dying pray at the last not ‘please’ but ‘thank you,’ as a guest thanks his host at the door.”
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Generous God, our Mysterious Host:
Thank you for your love and care for us and for your prodigal Spirit, ever creating, ever inspiring, ever renewing. We understand only that there is much that we don’t understand. Help us to trust and to rely upon your wisdom, not needing answers, only courage to accept your invitation to come in. Amen.
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