Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
"God has a plan." That's a phrase we hear a lot among religious people, isn't it? "God has a plan." This phrase is most often uttered during high stress situations, when someone (not always the speaker), when someone's world is falling apart and everything is upside down. We hear that God has a plan when someone's grandparent dies, when a baby is born too early and doesn't make it, when an unexpected diagnosis of cancer is made. When our life is not going the way we thought it would, when in fact it's going the way we prayed it wouldn't, there is always someone who will tell us that God is out there, working behind the scenes, and that everything is meant to happen for a reason.
Sometimes this is reassuring. Sometimes it helps to hear that the One who created this world, the One who, as our first reading from Proverbs tells us, established the heavens, drew a circle on the face of the deep, made firm the skies above, established the fountains of the deep, assigned to the sea its limits, marked out the foundations of the earth, it helps to hear that this One is still there, still active. It can be a comfort to be told that the One who established the moon and the stars isn't finished with the universe yet, that God is working all things towards a greater good, and that every single thing that happens was meant to be.
This way of looking at the world sees God outside of time, as it were, unrestrained by the relentless plod towards death that we experience. God, the One who created time, isn't bound by things like the past, or the future. When God is outside of time, God sees not just the whole of the universe, from before it was created until after it disappears, but also every single moment within it. God, the great Creator, can bring someone into being, watch them die, and see them receive new life all in the same instant. This eternal, omniscient, unfathomable God looks at our yesterdays, todays, and tomorrows, although not necessarily in that order, and arranges things to achieve perfection.
As I said, sometimes during times of despair and crisis, knowing that God is outside of time, pulling the strings and putting the master plan into place can be comforting. When things are overwhelming, this God-outside-time can be turned to, with the faith that everything is under control and everything will be okay. It can be good to hear that God has a plan.
But not always.
Sometimes, for some people, hearing, "God has a plan," can be a knife-twist in their heart. Sometimes, to hear that God is out there, directing things the way God wants, pulling strings and arranging plans, is too impersonal. Well, more than that. A God who is unaffected by the flow of time, to whom yesterday, today, and tomorrow make no difference, to some people this God is harsh and cold. A God who hasn't come into the world the way we have, or feared leaving it the way we do, is inaccessible. This One who creates the world but isn't a part of it is foreign to us, and in times of deep pain and confusion, is completely beyond our reach.
For these people, for me at times, God Incarnate is who we need to hear about. We need to hear, "God has been through it." It can be a comfort to hear about the One who was born, lived, and died as a human. To know that God peed on his mom and dad, threw up his food all over the floor, to know that God felt left out by his friends as a teenager, to know that God lost his temper, ached to kiss a girl, got headaches, to know that God got hungry, needed to sleep, got sore feet, to know that God's heart broke when his friend Lazarus died, that it warmed when he held a little child, to know these things about God can make a difference when things are tough. To know that God cared for his mother, to know that God wept and pleaded not to die, to know that there were times when God felt that things were beyond his control, to know these things can make hardships easier to bear. When it's a struggle to see the big picture, when it's hard to believe that things are going to be okay, then it can help to know that God has also gone through anguish and uncertainty and doubt.
Seeing God as incarnate, as a human, means seeing God inside time, as opposed to outside of it. God inside time experienced things the way we do, with yesterday, today, and tomorrow flowing from one to the next. The One who was inside time knew only what had happened, and what was happening, but not what was about to happen. (Just to be clear, he had faith about what was going to happen, but he didn't know, not the way God outside time does.) In any case, he went through life just as we do, contained in a one-way timeline.
So hearing about God-inside-time, that God the human has been through it, can also be a great comfort when times are difficult, when we're confronted by human mortality, when we're face-to-face with death.
But not always.
Sometimes neither God-outside-time nor God-inside-time is enough. God-outside-time isn't touched by the human experience, and God-inside-time, well, being restricted by his human limitations, God-inside-time wasn't able to experience everything a human can experience. For one thing, God-inside-time was male. He didn't have the experience that women have. For me, personally, I struggled a great deal to relate to the idea of both God-outside-time and God-inside- time when I was pregnant and after our baby was just born. Neither of these ways of looking at God helped me to feel that God was present during pregnancy, or labour, or nursing. In fact, the entire parenthood experience is beyond what God-inside-time personally lived through, as is marriage, or the difficulties of getting old, or the challenges of dealing with addictions. For some people, it does not help to hear that God-outside-time has a plan, or that God-inside-time has been through it.
What is needed at these times, at specific, personal, in-this-moment times, is to hear about God-throughout-time. God-throughout-time was there at the moment of creation, God- throughout-time lived and died in Israel two thousand years ago, God-throughout-time was with King David when he danced in front of the Ark, God-throughout-time was with the first disciples gathered on Pentecost. God-throughout-time was with Martin Luther when he struggled against his own church, God-throughout-time was with Mother Teresa when she wept for the dying in Calcutta. God-throughout-time is here, now, with the teen parent struggling to care for a baby alone, with the homeless person despairing in the streets, with the child fighting leukemia, with the senior who can no longer walk. God-throughout-time is not only with these people, but inside them, experiencing all of the things they experience, all of the things we experience; hurting when we hurt, rejoicing when we rejoice, hoping when we hope.
This One was with every believer from the beginning of time, is with every believer alive right now on earth, and will be with every believer until the dominion of God comes down to us. This One can help us when our lives seem too complicated to bear. This One can be with us when we are alone. When our pain seems unique to us, hearing that God-throughout-time is experiencing our pain, and living through our particular situation can bring comfort.
But not always.
Sometimes it can be too much to handle to think of God going through what we're going through, to think that God is trapped in us, trapped by the same circumstances that have bound us. Sometimes it doesn't help to think that God is as out of control as we are. Sometimes we need to know that God is outside of our situation and has a plan. Which brings us back to the beginning. Which brings me to today.
God-outside-time, God-inside-time, and God-throughout-time - none of these ways of looking at God are enough, on their own, to comfort us in every time and at every place. Sometimes we need to know that God has a plan. Sometimes that's the last thing we want to hear. Sometimes we need to know that God has been through it. Sometimes that's not enough. Sometimes we need to know that God is with us right now. Sometimes that doesn't do us any good at all.
But here's the thing: God-outside-time, God-inside-time, and God-throughout-time are one and the same God. We are not talking about three different gods, we are talking about the Three-in-One, the One-in-Three, the God we know most fully as the Holy Trinity. Yes, it's all a great mystery as to how the Trinity can be, how God can be outside time, inside time, and moving through time all at the same time, and yes, it's annoying for those of us who like neat and tidy explanations for everything to just leave it at that, but that's another sermon for another day. God is what God is, and what God is is the Trinity. When you need to hear that there is larger meaning to your life, I tell you, God, who is called the Father, has a plan. When you who need to hear that someone has been through what you're going through, I tell you, God, who is called the Son, has been through it. When you who need to hear that you are not alone in your particular situation, I tell you, God, who is called the Holy Spirit, is with you.
So, as we celebrate and proclaim this good news, may the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, comfort you now and always. Amen.