Prayer: “Reversed Thunder”

Part 10 in a series; see other parts here.

Feeling a divine thunderbolt tear through one’s spine en route to its ground cannot be called a pleasant experience. Typically in its aftermath, as smoke rises from our hair and electrical remnants spark from our fingertips, we can do little but sit still in a state of, well, shock. At times, though, our eyebrows tingle with premonition, and we manage to send the bolt back upwards with a forehand sharp enough to engender hubristic self-comparisons to Rafael Nadal in his prime.

Defiance against God usually begs for a swift usage of the smite button, or at least a firm putting-down of the divine foot. Still, I believe that sometimes God smiles on our insouciance. Contrary to the popular caricature of Christianity, I don’t think that God wants us to be a bunch of docile doormats, waiting on spiritual confirmation for every little thing and generally too afraid to launch out on our own. We cannot be forever children, and that means asserting a measure of independence.

I’m not talking about teenaged temper-tantrums of the I-hate-my-parents variety, but about the courage to step beyond the point to which God has led us. A revolt against God ad majorem Dei gloriam, so to speak. How can we learn to love God without overcoming our tendency to fear God? The steps that put us on that path can hardly look (to us) like anything other than defiance.

The thunderbolt provides a potent symbol of our reasons to fear God. Like Frank Windham early in The Backslider, we can be prone to picturing God up in heaven, looking down on us through rifle sights, just waiting for an excuse to pick us off. Step ever so slightly out of line and ZAP! We know that the belief is ridiculous—if God fried people for, say, missing a month of home teaching or swearing during Church ball, entire Elder’s quorums would be depopulated—and yet we cower as though there were nothing more true.

Our ongoing failure to become lightning rods means, though, that blowing off the home teaching or swearing during Church ball don’t really count as defiance, just like rage-tweeting isn’t really activism. In fact, the best model of the kind of defiance I’m talking about is Jesus, who had the unremitting gall to do things like heal on the Sabbath and dine with publicans and sinners. See, the thing that explodes in a burst of electrical fury when we give God’s thunderbolt the old “return to sender” isn’t God, but the false images we can’t help building up. We make God too little mysterious sometimes, and getting the mystery back requires tweaking what we think we know.

Reversed thunder is a kind of prayer because it makes possible our continued seeking. It allows us to keep growing rather than stagnating in the comfortable (or uncomfortable) ideas of God we’ve created in our own image. Our spiritual lives need a little blasphemy, or at least the appearance of it, if they are to be lives at all.

Comments

  1. As a meditation I can simply enjoy. Thanks.
    But approaching this critically —
    1. Do you really mean ad majorem Dei gloriam? The AMDG is the Latin motto of the Jesuits, commonly rendered as “For the greater glory of God” or “all my deeds for God”, and discussed in terms of any work (that is not evil) being for the glory of God. It’s a great thought that I would like to see developed further in Mormon practice, but does not (to my mind) fit your context of a “revolt against God.” If it does, say more?
    2. I think you pull your punches in the later part and conclusion. The sense and value of revolt (or I might use ‘revolution’ in some places because it has less of an ‘anger’ connotation in modern usage–anger being a somewhat different matter) can make sense with respect to the real God, not just false images and appearances. In my mind it is in fact part-and-parcel with the ‘realness’ of God. I don’t fight back, reply, revolt, against a philosophical concept. I fight back, reply, revolt, against a God of passions and demands.

  2. BTW, when I say “developed further in Mormon practice” that is not to be critical of Mormon practice, but to say that (in my opinion) Mormonism and Mormon practice is an excellent ground on which to cultivate the idea which is already present in various forms.

  3. Jason K. says:

    Yes, I did mean the AMDG of the Jesuits. Given the onetime suppression of the order, perhaps it association with revolt isn’t too strange, but I see your point, which may connect to the perceived pulling of punches near the end. There’s a paradox at the heart of this whole idea that, notwithstanding my general love of paradox, I didn’t explore in the post as fully as I might. That is: the notion of a salutary revolt against God risks calling the concept of evil into question. The boundary between tearing down false images of God and tearing down God proper is not remotely clear. I admittedly felt a little haunted by Nietzsche in writing this.

    I like what you say about the ‘realness’ of God; perhaps this would have been a good place to bring in Jacob wrestling with the angel.

    That said, and in connection with the concept of evil, Christian churches have a way of papering over the way that Jesus was harshly critical of his own time’s piety and religiosity. Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor kinda had a point: who wants a meddlesome disruptor like him around anyway? Forget blaming the Jews for Jesus’ crucifixion: we’d probably do it all over again were he to appear among us. It’s his revolt I hope to embrace.

  4. Oh yes, the problem of evil is very much at play here. You don’t to have answer to acknowledge the tension.