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Monday, April 3, 2017

In praise of messiness

This all started with my thinking about how and when God became incarnate--became a human being.

God did it in such a messy way. Why do it several million years after the human race evolved? Why do it in an out-of-the-way corner of the Roman Empire?

And then there is the healing. Why didn't Jesus get the job done? He cured people; why couldn't he have cured everybody once and for all?

I was reading a psalm. The translation is such a mess. Somewhere along the line somebody copied something wrong and now the words make no sense. Furthermore, we have the language problem. It is always messy when you translate one language into another. You had the original Hebrew words, then the Greek that seventy scholars translated 200 years before Christ, then the Latin that Jerome translated 400 years after Christ, then the King James translation that a bunch of Anglican scholars translated in the 1600s, and finally the exploding number of translations being made today, for all kinds of people and all kinds of purposes. Why couldn't God have gotten this straightened out so we could all read God's word clearly in our own languages?

Those are religious questions. Then we have the scientific discoveries.

We have learned that children growing up in too-perfect environments end up without the antibodies that could protect them from diseases and allergies. It seems better for us if we grow up in messiness.

We developed antibiotics to kill off the bugs that make us sick, and now we realize that there are trillions of bacteria inside our intestines that keep us healthy and even allow us to digest our food. When we soak our intestines with antibiotics, we get even sicker. We are so hell-bent on improving our world that we are destroying huge numbers of species, especially huge numbers of species of bacteria, without even knowing it.

In fact, when we are too successful at making our world look perfect and orderly according to our vision, we make things worse. For centuries the monks drained "swamps." Today we call those swamps "wetlands," because we have learned that they do important things for our environment. Seventy-five years ago engineers straightened out the Mississippi River near New Orleans so ships could go directly into the Gulf of Mexico. We realize now that the straightening contributed to the destruction of marshes and now Louisiana is losing thousands of acres of land every year to the Gulf.

Then there is death. Death is messy. It shouldn't be part of our plan. Yet it is.

The fact is, God comes to us in messiness. I always thought that our calling was to straighten out the evils of the world and make things better for everybody (the engineering impulse). Maybe I've missed the point that God comes to us right where we are. That doesn't mean that we should quit trying to help others. But it is the love behind our helping others that counts, not the improvement in others' lives. The improvement may or may not come; the love sticks.

The poor. Poverty is messy. Poor neighborhoods are ugly. God loves beauty. We should be turning ugliness into beauty, right? Right, but the messiness of poverty is where God is. God wants love in the midst of messiness. That's the main point.

In fact, it's the main point of the universe. All these billions of years of incredible smashing and burning and random evolution have allowed a tiny piece of the whole universe to be alive and to be able to love and therefore to be able to love its Creator in return. It doesn't seem very efficient. It's messy.

I look out my window and see all kinds of trees and bushes and weeds and birds and insects and cars driving on paved streets with potholes. We have planted the trees in some kind of order, and we "trim" them so they look nice to us, but we know that they have done fine in the woods for millions of years without us.

We live and die in the midst of messiness. God is with us in the midst of messiness. We love in the midst of messiness. God loves us in the midst of messiness. That's the story of God. That's our story.