The Holy Spirit paused me at so many points along the way in today’s readings. With each, I reflected out-loud in my scriptural journal, marveling at the questions and challenges put before me by God’s word.
My first stop was the second psalm wherein I was asked to think differently about the good-bad petitions of many Old Testament believers. I frequently push back big-time against the faithful who ask God to do bad things to bad people. Psalmists and other scribes who pray to God, “What are you going to do about these evildoers? These bad people who don’t believe in you? I have an idea, why don’t you take their things away, hurt them, banish them? If you did that to those bad people, God, then I would feel better about believing in you – that all my trials and poverty and sadness and illness and well you know, all that bad stuff that has happened to me – me a good and righteous believing person – well – I could go on believing in you and I would just feel better about myself.”
So at this second psalm when this type of petition came up, I was glad to see a softer heart hearing it – reading these verses of Psalm 28:
3 Do not snatch me away with the wicked or with the
who speak peaceably with their neighbors,
while strife is in their hearts.
4 Repay them according to their deeds, *
and according to the wickedness of their actions.
I realized this is a good person just trying to make sense of God’s way in the world – a sort of heart’s cry in the meager language of the human mind. The psalmist is working things out in his or her head and heart and letting God know what he or she needs to see to know God’s way for him or her and the world. The psalmist is the black-white, good-bad thinker – not God. Small thinking for a very big God.
Point is – that for today – I felt some compassion as I perceived the limits of the human mind at work earnestly trying to comprehend our mysterious Creator. Believing in Him is not a simple endeavor. Following Him even harder. Our human minds so often limit access to the holy and mysterious broad place into which we are each called to live with one another.
The broad, light-filled space Jesus points Nicodemus towards in today’s gospel. I was so grateful to have checked my cynicism at the door in the psalter. A layer of the onion was peeled so I could read this passage differently – a passage I have often pushed back against over the years – not because of what Jesus teaches, but because of how Christians – and especially how many Christian pastors – have used the ‘born-again’ teaching to invite non-believers into the fold. Like the psalmists whom I have derided for their ill-will wishing upon believers, I haven’t held in much esteem those who reduce the Christian life to a sort of one-off born again event. Be born-again, say these words, and you are forever saved. Small theological thinking for a very big God.
But, as I said before – the cynicism I sometimes feel when I come upon this passage – didn’t rear its head today. No, my more compassionate heart read the passage differently and I saw the broad place to which Jesus points Nicodemus and all of us who follow him. Entry way? The born-again door. A one-off? No. On-going as this Forward Day by Day writer reflected upon in 2011:
John 2:23—3:15. Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God [KJV].
Having grown up in a small town in the American South, I was often asked the born-again question. Had I been born again? Many of my schoolmates could tell you the date and time when they had been, and they spoke as if they’d been “lost” until that moment but “saved” ever since. I couldn’t identify with that, and I sometimes wondered whether I was a real Christian.
Years later, I found my answer to the born-again question. It is: “Yes, I’ve been born again. And again, and again, and again.” Every time I’ve thought I was within sight of Christian maturity, God has done something to me, usually something I didn’t expect and often something I wouldn’t have asked for. God has dismantled and reconstructed me and my faith several times, and I can identify the people through whom God has done it. Moreover, I doubt that God’s finished. For all I know, God will continue to work on me in the next life. In fact, I hope so. I wouldn’t care for a life—on earth, in heaven, or anywhere—that’s always the same, with nothing new to learn, no cutting edges, no challenges to face, no new revelations of the goodness of God.
No small thinking God, we have. But a big ol mysterious, wondrous, perplexing, welcoming God who calls each of us to be born anew every day we are here on His earth – born again, over and over and over – growing up with Him and in Him.