I re-read Barbara Kingsolver’s 2012 book, Flight Behavior, not too long ago. Writing about the problems of global warming and environmental degradation in what seemed a heavy-handed way just a few years go, her book now, in light of the hurricanes, floods and fires of 2017, is another clear call to change human behavior. Kingsolver also writes, somewhat more subtly, about the age-old problems of rich versus poor, educated versus uneducated, social intelligence versus academic smarts, rural versus urban. I haven’t noticed those problems going away either.
It was near the novel’s end that Kingsolver said something I have never thought about before. Her main character in Flight Behavior, the fancifully named Dellarobia, has wondered all her life why the answer to her life’s greatest difficulties has always been that “God moves in mysterious ways.” She realizes with some astonishment that God doesn’t move. It’s God’s people who are moving. In Kingsolver’s book, and in reality, many would argue, some people are heedlessly moving to destroy the planet, and others moving to save it.
…everything else is in motion while God does not move at all. God sits still, perfectly at rest, the silver dollar at the bottom of the well, the question. (p. 350)
God’s wisdom is unmoving, but sometimes people need to move around that wisdom a second (or third or fourth…) time to unlock its meaning. I had that very experience with a hymn sung at St. John’s a few Sundays ago, Come, labor on (The Hymnal 1982, #541). It’s a favorite of mine and, though I have played and sung it countless times, new wisdom jumped out at me in the phrase No arm so weak, but may do service here (Hymn 541, verse 3). I had never focused on those particular words before, but I appreciate the belief that all can serve God, no matter how unimportant they might consider their service. The words had always been there, but I had moved around them enough times to finally hear that kernel of wisdom.
A question we might be tempted to ask, in despair after the mass shooting in Las Vegas this week, is one which a scientist named Ovid in Kingsolver’s book also wonders: “What was the use of saving a world that has no soul left in it?” Environmental degradation, gun violence, refugees from war and famine. Where is God in any of this? There are times to be still in God’s presence and simply listen, and there are times to move, and it is in those times we might remind ourselves that God has no hands on earth but ours. As choirs have sung: Christ has no body now but yours. No soul on earth but ours.
People do indeed move in mysterious ways, from profoundly loving to cruelly indifferent to simply evil. If we are able to see God’s wisdom as a complete and central foundation for our lives we might try to move around that wisdom, uncovering bits of it, finding those truths that have been patiently awaiting our discovery and collective remembering. It is wisdom which will move us closer to love in all its forms, from quiet to outraged.