What does “God With Us” Mean?
by Debbonnaire Kovacs
This week's lectionary texts have in common the idea of God caring for us through an endless variety of troubles, from war to storm to the turmoil of being whispered against and hated. But I've been wondering for years, What does that mean, "God will take care of you"?
I can tell you some things it doesn't mean:
You or your children will have enough to eat.
You will not lose your home or job.
Your marriage will succeed.
You will not be attacked, raped, or tortured.
You will not die in some terrible way, whether from accident, disease, or as a casualty of war.
So, if it doesn't mean any of these things, what does it mean? Is God "with us" the way Dian Fossey was "with" the gorillas? Staying as silent and unobtrusive as possible, sitting alongside with a clipboard and noting everything? Watching with the joy or sorrow each event elicits, but not interfering? Liking, even loving the apes, perhaps giving them pet names, but doing as little as possible to have any effect on the experiment? "Day, Month, Year: Debbie had a bad thing happen to her. So sad. It's hard to watch. . ."
Is God "with us" like that?
Or is it more like a friend, walking alongside us with an arm around our shoulders, crying when we cry and laughing when we laugh, listening to our irritations, woes, and celebrations and joining in them with us. . . but powerless to change anything?
Is God "with us" like that?
Or is God with us with us? Is God inside our troubles and joys, as we are? Is God in the boat when we nearly sink, in the armor when we take up the sling against our (and God's) enemies, inside our skin when we are ecstatic or depressed? When I am cut, does God bleed? When I laugh, does God's belly shake?
I recently read a small sentence that struck me: "Remember that what happens to you touches Christ first." Touches him first? I thought about it. Imagine a white board. In the center of it I make a tiny dot. That represents you or me, one human. Then, in the air around the white board, I draw a BI-I-I-I-G circle, way, way too big to fit on the white board. That represents God. When you or I "ask God to live in our hearts," what would that look like? Who would be actually "inside" of Whom?
If that were a fairly good representation of Immanuel, God With Us, then whatever came our way, good, bad, or indifferent, would definitely touch God first. And if God's infinitely bigger than we are, then I submit that God's emotions are that much bigger, too. It touches God first.
I admit, it doesn't really answer the underlying questions of why Bad Things happen (and keep on happening and happening and happening) to Good People. (Not sure I am one of those anyway.) But it does make me feel better. A little. . .