A big boy did it and ran away…

This ancient Scottish explanation of anything from a broken window to a broken neck came to mind when I was reading about Blaise Pascal, 17th century French philosopher who proposed the idea of a ‘deus absconditus’. Most translators render this as ‘a God who withdraws or hides’ but the book I was reading suggested ‘a God who absconds’; specifically, a God who commits creation then runs off, taking with him the secret that may make sense of it.

Annie Dillard, the author of “Abundance”, a series of essays that reflect on the beauty and terror of creation, makes this suggestion after describing how a giant water bug first paralyses a frog then sucks it to death. We don’t have many texts that meditate on this face of creation. Even the book of Job, which is about as daring as our Bible gets, refers only to the mystery of human suffering, while giving vivid examples of the inexplicable order of the natural world. I have written before on this site about the need for Christian theology to reckon with the facts of the natural world and with the theory of evolution.image

What was Jesus doing when he prayed to the ‘father’?

Was he asking, as we are tempted to do, for special treatment for himself and his concerns? And if he wasn’t, (as pious people say) because he was only concerned with what God wanted, is he really any use to people like us?

Or maybe he had a genuine understanding of the God who permits frogs to be sucked to death, citizens of Nagasaki to be vapourised, and Judaean prophets to be crucified. Perhaps he knew that the father had not absconded, that he had not done a terrible thing and run away, but was hidden in the suffering of his creatures.

Matthew in his Gospel gives a hint of this when he uses a phrase from Isaiah 53 to describe Jesus’ healing, “he has taken upon himself our diseases.” Matthew thought that Jesus healed others by a process of suffering. Mark always presents Jesus as the crucified and risen Lord even before he is crucified. The last book of the  bible may be profoundly right in identifying the suffering Jesus with God, in the phrase, “the lamb who is in the heart of the throne.”

The secret may be that there is no way for a creator to fashion a universe that is good, other than by suffering along with it the consequences of its own freedom.  There is a persistent witness in all art that there is no true creativity without suffering. If Jesus understood that necessity and shared the Creator’s commitment to his/her plan, then we could imagine his prayers being very different from ours, without ceasing to be human. “Father, let this cup pass from me” that’s human, that’s my sort of prayer; “Neverthess, not what I want, but what you want” – that’s alien, that expresses Jesus’ partnership with the will to suffer. In his humanity Jesus identifies with me; in his readiness to suffer he identifies with God.image

The fruit of his prayers will have been his sense of God’s presence, especially in the suffering of the creatures. “Not one sparrow falls to the ground without your father; the very hairs of your head are numbered.” I hope this is true even if I can’t really understand it.

My youngest brother is in the high dependency unit in hospital. I am praying for him to this strange God:

May it be true, God, that not one man or woman is taken into the HDU without the father

I noticed as if for the first time that his hair is quite grey.

May the hairs of his head be counted by you

May the hairs of his head be counted by you

May the hairs of his head be counted by you

Let this cup pass him by




No, bugger nevertheless,

Let this cup pass him by.












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