We sang a new song at church yesterday, called Another In The Fire (by Hillsong UNITED), and it really caught my attention. There was a lyric: “there was another in the fire, standing next to me.”
The lyrics are alluding to an old story from the book of Daniel, about three men living in exile in a foreign land under a foreign ruler. They pissed the king off and he threw them into a furnace as punishment; only they didn’t die, and in fact the king saw four men (he only threw in three) walking around in the fire. They were saved by an angel and came out of the fire with not even a singed hair on their heads.
There’s another ancient story in the Bible, this one in the book of Genesis, about a guy named Jacob who had just done something really awful and sneaky and was running away from home to save his life. He ends up sleeping in the desert, and dreams of a ladder coming down from Heaven with angels going up and down it. He woke up and said, “God is in this place – truly. And I didn’t even know it!”
In the story of the burning bush, Moses realized that he was walking on holy ground (and it’s no different or more special than any other ground anywhere else in creation). When Jesus dies, the veil separating the part of the Jewish temple that was supposed to keep all but the most holy priests out rips clean in two. Over and over again, we see stories in the Bible of God pulling back the curtain and trying to get us to see that God is right there with us, and has been all along. I’m only familiar with Christian history, and would be curious if there are similar stories in other religions, of God/Allah/whoever trying to reach through and help us little humans see that we are part of Creation, part of God’s being everywhere, all the time.
One of the most radical things Jesus said, and that we still have such a hard time grasping, is that “the kingdom of God is in your midst” (Luke 17:21). The kingdom of God, the backwards rule of the rich being poor, the poor being lifted up, the last being first and the first being last, the leaders acting like servants and absolutely no one being taken advantage of or stepped on: it’s here. The earth, all of Creation, is saturated with God already. Yes, our actual planet is super messed up, and people can act evil and there is a lot of brokenness and ugliness, and yet, God is here holding out a hand to us.
I think sometimes we act like everything is such a big mystery. And sure, there are a lot of mysterious things out there in the universe, things as yet undiscovered or not understood by science and our human brains. But when it comes to God, I think we’ve put up more barriers ourselves, making all kinds of rules and religions, trying to police who is “in” and who is “out,” when God has been screaming from the edges, the rafters, the margins the whole time, yelling “I’M RIGHT HERE!!”
The God I’ve come to know and (albeit, limitedly) understand, wants us to be in a relationship together. God isn’t trying to hide or be sneaky or make it a big scavenger hunt or riddle to solve. God desires for us to know and love our Creator, and to live with a full awareness of who God is, and therefore who we are (that is, wonderfully and lovingly made by God the Creator, full of worth and dignity simply by belonging to the human race).
If we could grasp that God is really here all around us, if the Kingdom of God is truly present on this earth, wouldn’t that change things up? Wouldn’t that make us stop caring so much about labels, gay/straight, citizen/foreigner, Republican/Democrat, Christian/other, etc etc as we realize that we are all humans and all already part of this Kingdom of God? If we’re already part of God’s kingdom, already loved by our Creator, wouldn’t that allow us to rest and stop striving, to stop trying so hard to convince ourselves that we’re doing it right and therefore prove that other people are wrong? Wouldn’t it help us see others through God’s loving eyes and want to help them, no matter what? Even if they didn’t “deserve” it, that maybe they are the people hurting and in need the most? Wouldn’t it help us see through the thin veneer that earthly power holds, that money or political influence are really laughable in the face of the entire universe?
I think if we could wear a pair of Luna Lovegood’s Spectrespecs (hardcore nerd reference), they would show the world teeming with God-particles everywhere we look. And if we dare, we need simply to extend a hand, to reach out and be united with our Creator. Whatever country you’re from, whatever religion you’re from, whatever color you are or gender or sexuality, God’s waiting to grasp your hand and to walk alongside your life with you.
And once you’ve done that, as I’ve tried, you’ll find that you can’t look at the rest of the world the same way anymore. You’ll see everyone as a child of God, deserving of God’s love and attention, and of human dignity. Your heart will start to bleed as you notice all the injustice, all the hurt, all the damage we’re doing to each other, and you’ll want to help. You may end up caring about people who look way different than you, or who speak a different language or identify in ways you cannot even understand. You may find that God has cracked your heart wide open, so much that it can feel nearly impossible to live in this still-so-imperfect world, but that, thank God, God is also surrounding you in a God-sized bear hug and is holding you up, lending you some superhuman God-strength to keep on living and loving through the awareness and through the pain.