Madmen, Destruction, and the Art of God’s Patience

Sometimes my worlds race toward collision in frightening, yet illuminating ways. Friday, I watched the entertaining story of a ‘madman’ thwarted on the brink of high-tech global genocide by Captain America. Later than night, 60 days of growing zucchini vines was destroyed in less than 60 minutes of torrential rain. Saturday morning, I heard the tragic news of a ‘madman’ who wreaked local carnage in Norway using a few guns and a truckload of fertilizer.

In the aftermath, our temptation is to mouth platitudes about justice which are usually little more than vengeful sentiments in disguise. “A maximum sentence of 21 years? That hardly seems right!” What seldom tempts us in such reactive moments is the posture of lament. What may not even occur to us is the proactive and painstaking work of peace. Perhaps our greatest temptation at such moments is to accept the logic of redemption-through-violence, wishing that every country had its own superhero. Surely a ‘Captain Norway’ would have been strong enough and fast enough to save the day, just in time.

Several years ago, in “God Does Not Hurry,” EP endorser Kelly Johnson taught me to recognize this link between haste and violence for what it is, a refusal of God’s redemptive patience. It takes 30 years (or 600 or thousands) to grow a savior from the seed of a promise (Luke 1:31-33; Isaiah 7:14; Genesis 12:1-3; 3:15). But it only takes a moment to betray, only hours to crucify, only an instant to pierce. My zucchini vines remind me that in a world fraught with vulnerability and violence, the long slow work of trusting, following, abiding and hoping seems to promise nothing but risk, suffering, loss, death and defeat.

Except that that slow work, steady walk, abiding love is the shape of our attachment to the incarnate Promise (2 Cor. 1:20), is the fecund power of our in-Spirited life. So on a morning when my vines lie beaten, when gunfire has stilled the laughter of children, I must do something .   . by being someone’s. The world’s urgent need has a claim on my love, but neither the rush of its violence nor my sense of its fragility has any claim on the shape and speed of faithful response. I’m not called to be Captain America, and we, the church, are not called to be Captain Christians. The captain of our faith, its pioneer and perfecter, has called us to himself, to cruciform patience and resurrection hope.

This is not a once-off affair, but the discerning work of continually recognizing our heretical accommodations with evil. Such clear seeing won’t happen by watching the news or a summer blockbuster. It is best nurtured by looking at incarnations of divine patience, like the mysterious recovery of garden vines, or the surprising reconciliation of enemies become friends. Johnson pointed to our need for incarnate imaginations of Christ’s patient love by referencing the French Cistercian monks of Tibhirine, Algeria, who were martyred for a stubborn, patient love of neighbor and of enemy. That story has been rendered as the beautiful film “Of Gods and Men” (see Ragan Sutterfield’s review). Here the filmic medium matches the ecclesial medium which is the message: God’s patient Love was crucified but is risen, reigning and redeeming through a loving, patient people, Christ’s slow servant Church.

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