The question arises in some form or another almost every time I teach a course on the Bible: If God knew what a mess humanity would make of God’s creation, why did God create the world as we know it? The question has force for us, as it projects our own experience onto the cosmic screen.
The greatest Christmas carol in history was not written by Irving Berlin or Nat King Cole. The greatest carol is not “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” or “White Christmas” or even “Silent Night.” The greatest carol was composed 2,000 years ago by a pregnant teenage girl who was visiting her cousin Elizabeth.
Our guide assured us that it wasn’t very far, only about 15 minutes or so up the road. Maybe 20. We were on our way to Bassin-Bleu, one of Haiti’s most magnificent waterfalls. The sight of it, said our guide, would take our breath away. It was early in the morning.
We did a lot of breathing through our teeth: “Hee, hee, hoo. Hee, hee, hoo. Hee, hee, hoo.” The instructor said this breathing would help mitigate the pain of labor, and it did, until we hit that thing called transition (the most intense phase of labor when even the strongest women momentarily lose faith in their ability to bring new life into the world).
Have you got good religion? Enslaved Africans in the antebellum South asked this question when they created a spiritual that offers a poignant and penetrating perspective on the state of Western Christianity. The famous line from “Have You Got Good Religion?” is a critique of Americanized Christianity.
When you think of Jesus’ disciples, who comes to mind? Impulsive Peter and doubting Thomas? Surely. James and John, the Zebedee boys? Of course. Mary Magdalene and some of the other women mentioned in Luke 8:1-3? Yes, if we remember that Luke’s list of Jesus’ followers was much larger and more inclusive that just “the twelve.” But blind Bartimaeus? Hardly.
Sometimes we are most afraid of what we most need. It’s one of the more perplexing mysteries of the human heart. Happiness, peace, healing and all the other elements of fullness of life can be right in front of us, but instead of embracing them, we back away in fear.
I want the best for my students. That’s why I love talking to them about the virtue of magnanimity and its corresponding vice of pusillanimity, a word that is hard to spell and even harder to pronounce, but important to understand. Magnanimous people consistently set their sights high. In everything they do, they aspire to what is best.