Back in 2012 my family and I ventured to Europe (back in the days when we could still travel!) to see the sites of Rome, and Florence, and Greece, and some others. It was tremendously fun, very educational, and extremely hot.
But one day, after my husband had I had toured the Renaissance art gallery in Florence (the Uffizi), I was struck by a rather melancholy feeling.
I couldn’t really put my finger on it until the next day, when we visited another church and looked at all the breathtaking artwork. In Italy, I never saw Jesus do anything.
Jesus was everywhere–though perhaps Mary was in slightly more paintings. But everywhere that Jesus was, He wasn’t doing anything. He was either a baby, or else He was dead. Now, I’m not trying to say that dying on the cross wasn’t important, but more often than not He wasn’t even depicted on the cross; He was off the cross, with his bleeding head cradled in some women’s arms. So he’s a baby, or He’s weak, helpless, and dead.
I found the artwork beautiful, and the cathedrals stunning, but I can’t say that I had very many profoundly religious experiences, because I didn’t really sense the Jesus that I know. Rarely did I see Jesus feeding the five thousand, or talking to the woman caught in adultery or the woman at the well, or pulling little children to His lap, or making a whip out of cords, or even rising from the dead! No pictures of empty tombs here.
In the Sistine Chapel there were some paintings of other scenes from Jesus’ life, but in all, His death and his baby-hood took the pre-eminence, as if there was nothing between and nothing afterwards. And I thought to myself, that’s a very hard Jesus to relate to. You know that He suffers, and you know that He was human, but that’s really it. You can’t get a sense of His personality, or His very real-ness. He seems almost impotent.
In contrast, the saints were always doing stuff–slaying dragons, or writing letters, or debating. The apostles were, too. Even the women in Jesus’ life seemed to take the initiative and do something. But not Jesus.
But then I started to wonder: in all my criticizing of this art, do I honestly believe that Jesus does stuff?
Or am I just comfortable with the Jesus that I know from Bible stories, too? Do I think that Jesus’ whole life can be depicted in paintings, and that it somehow ended 2000 years ago?
I’m not talking about whether or not I believe that Jesus is alive now–I do, and I think most reading this blog do as well–I’m talking about whether or not we believe and we act as if we believe that Jesus is still active now. There’s a whole lot of difference between being alive and being active.
Do we really believe that God does stuff, even today? Do we really believe that He can make a difference in our lives, or are we trying to follow a God who we know about through the Bible, but that’s really as far as it goes. We haven’t experienced Him. That was the overwhelming feeling I got in those cathedrals: they knew about Jesus, but I didn’t see Jesus being an active part of anyone’s life.
I don’t have all the answers, but I do have two big thoughts today that I’d like to introduce as we start a new series on the blog.
1. God rarely answers prayers as we think He should–but He does do neat stuff.
Ever get tired of prayers that go, “Lord, if it is your will, let X, Y and Z happen, because that just seems obvious to me.” We throw in the “if it is your will” so that if it doesn’t happen, we can say, “well, it’s not my fault. It’s not that I didn’t pray enough. It’s God’s will.” It’s kind of like a cop out.
And we often judge our faith by how well God answers our specific prayers.
But one thing I’ve found over my half century of life is that God often does absolutely amazing things that I could never have prayed for because I didn’t even know they were a thing. Let me tell you a bit more of the story of The Great Sex Rescue, and Joanna.
Our family met Joanna through Joanna’s little sister Gracie, who was best friends with my daughter Katie. Both of my girls were involved in Bible quizzing with the Alliance church when they were teenagers. They memorized entire books of the New Testament (seriously; Katie has about half the New Testament memorized, and Becca almost half). They were so good they made the internationals team.
And so they met teenagers from all over, including a family of 4 from Pittsburgh (Joanna and her family). But Joanna met other Canadians while quizzing, including a really tall guy named Josiah from Saskatoon. They married. My girls even did the hair for the wedding!
Fast forward a few years and Rebecca gets an email from Joanna because Josiah has graduated law school and needs a placement, and wanted to know if we had any leads. So I put them in touch with a lawyer from Belleville, and lo and behold, they end up in Belleville!
We get to know them a bit, and Joanna starts doing some work on the blog right around the time the whole Love & Respect thing breaks. Because she’s an epidemiologist, she’s worked extensively with data coding and analyzing in academia, and she’s able to write up the first report for Focus on the Family–which they ignore.
And one day Joanna and I are FaceTiming when she says, “Maybe I should just go back and do my Ph.D. so I could do a big survey and see how these teachings have affected women.” And I reply, “We don’t need to do a Ph.D. for that. We could just do it!”
And we did. Because I had Joanna, who actually knew what she was doing with statistics, and Rebecca, who knew what she was doing with survey development, and me, who could write (although Rebecca wrote all the funny bits of the book).
None of us could have done this project alone.
Now, it turns out that Josiah’s job was a wonderful learning opportunity and gave him some experience, but it wasn’t forever. And so he moved on to a job in the Canadian arctic.
We all thought they were moving to Belleville because of Josiah’s job. But it turns out they were moving to Belleville for Joanna, who, at the time, was a stay-at-home mom with a baby. We would never have reconnected with Joanna otherwise.
One of my sharpest memories of internationals in 2009 was Josiah in the finals, answering a question clearly and solidly. I never remembered his name, but I remembered him. And who would have thought that we would know them so well now?
We could never, ever have prayed for any of this. I think we were praying totally different things for the direction of the blog or for Rebecca’s work or anything. But God was weaving all these strange pieces of our lives together so that at just the right time, we would all be together.
I can look back at so many different times in my life when I was praying for something specific, but I didn’t know the big picture. I thought God wasn’t answering my prayers, but really He was doing something even stranger and cooler.
And it makes you sit back and be in awe sometimes.
What I’ve learned in prayer is that a powerful prayer isn’t so much about specific actions God should take as it is about the qualities that we want to see in people afterwards. So rather than pray, “God, teach my husband how to show me love by helping him to see that I need him to talk to me at night, and not sit in front of the TV all the time,” you can pray, “God, make my husband into a man who seeks you first, and then shows your love to others. Let him experience your love in a powerful way, and let that spill over into all aspects of his life.”
Or instead of praying, “God, get me this particular job,” you can pray, “God, give us our daily bread. And work things out so that whatever we do in life puts us in exactly the place you want us to be for what you have in mind. Keep us open to opportunities to speak a word into someone’s life. Let us be part of making your kingdom come on earth. Make us always sensitive to your Holy Spirit.”
2. Finally: We Serve a God Who Laughs
This is really the point I want to make today, and what I’d like to talk about through the rest of the month.
Would our view of God change if we understood that Jesus laughed–a lot? Would our walk with God change if we understood that God has a sense of humor, and that He enjoys laughter?
Think about it: rough fishermen liked spending time with Jesus. Sinners and tax collectors liked eating with Jesus. They didn’t feel judged. Little children liked sitting on Jesus’ lap, and felt welcome.
What do all of those things have in common? Laughter.
So often, in our art and in our prayers, we picture God as the Man of Sorrows–which He was and is. But He is more than that. He is also the creator of laughter, the author of joy. He laughs when babies chortle. He laughs at squirrels that chase each other up trees. He laughs just like you do when you watch your children.
Jesus enjoyed life. He had to–or people wouldn’t have particularly liked Him. It was the Pharisees who were sad and somber, not Jesus.
Sure, He got angry, too. Sure, He wept over Jerusalem. We know that Jesus well.
But He also laughed.
Don’t you think He laughed when He was feeding the five thousand and the bread kept coming? Don’t you think He laughed when He told some of His parables? I think He likely had a twinkle in His eye.
And I actually think that makes a difference. And so this month, I’d like to talk about the God Who Laughs, and what that means for us in marriage.
Are you with me?
The Great Sex Rescue
Changing the conversation about sex & marriage in the evangelical church.
What if you're NOT the problem with your sex life?
What if the things that you've been taught have messed things up--and what if there's a way to escape these messages?
Welcome to the Great Sex Rescue.
Do you ever picture Jesus laughing? Does that make a difference to you? Have you ever seen God do something amazing–but you only recognize it after the fact? Let’s talk in the comments!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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