Saying Yes to God

What does it mean to say yes to God? James used the story of the angel’s visit to Mary announcing the birth of Jesus to emphasize the importance of answering God’s call on our life. From James’ perspective, Mary could have said no. And if she had said no, things would have been different. We don’t know how, but different. I have trouble with this interpretation. I keep re-reading the passage and I don’t see an option. The angel uses the future tense and speaks as if it is a done deal. In other words, from my perspective Mary is not saying yes to the question: Will you bear God’s son? However, I do think there is an implicit question here. (The angel never explicitly asks her anything!) From my perspective, God’s question is not: Will you bear my son? God’s question is: Do you trust me? God’s messenger is telling her how her life will unfold and the only question on the table is: Does she trust God enough to be a willing
partner in God’s plans for her life, or does she have doubts that will manifest themselves in anger and resentment. Someway, somehow, Mary, a young, unmarried, vulnerable girl, answers YES to this, in many ways, more difficult question.

I think that reflecting on this alternative formulation of the question is as important as reflecting on the original. There are times in our lives when God calls us to do something, and we have the choice to say yes or no to the call. In my life, however, these times have been few. Much more common, in my own experience, is adjusting to the unexpected “now” of my life that arrives without asking for my permission. Truth be told, many changes have arrived despite my vehement protestations and gut wrenching pleas for another way. I have not responded as gracefully as Mary to knowledge of my future. Just the opposite. I have screamed and cried and shook my fist at God. More troubling, I have doubted God’s existence and God’s benevolence because things have not turned out the way I had planned. Although I have answered yes to God’s few calls on my life, I have been unable to answer yes to the more basic question: Do you trust me?

In my view, this question is more difficult for two reasons. First, we give up all control. I’ve had at least two specific calls from God in my life. The first was to leave my PHD program and the second was to become a preacher. I said yes to both. Both required sacrifices, but the choice was mine to make. More recently, God has presented me with done deals. I’ve had no choice to make. My only choice is how to respond. Secondly, asking for our trust is more difficult because too often things don’t make sense. Maybe that is why God doesn’t ask. I can’t get my head around the done deals. What is their purpose? What good do they achieve? How do they help make the world a better place? Saving the world by becoming a human child to an unwed girl and then dying on a cross is utterly ridiculous and insane. Maybe we are asked to trust because we cannot understand enough to answer another question.

And so the New Year approaches and I look to the future knowing I have a lot of work to do. I must rebuild my faith into something that can withstand the change that is inevitable in life. And the heartache. Perhaps I can find an example in Mary. But I think God chose a child to be the mother of God because only a child’s trust would be enough. I am an adult and no longer have such simple trust. It is hard for me to accept that sometimes God’s plans are not my own. I find greater solace in the adult Jesus. He understands the pain that comes from being part of a plan that does not make sense. He begged for another way in the garden at Gethsemane. And as he hung on the cross, he asked his father, the God of us all, why he had forsaken his only son. The future is not always what we expect it to be. But the cross was not the end of the story. We are a resurrection people. And in that, we can find hope to sustain us. And the broken son of God offers to walk with us into that unexpected future. Sharing our fear and our hurt. Holding it into himself so that we answer yes, yes God, we trust you. Take it all.

I trust you.

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