Not that long ago I was listening to two pundits pund. Isn’t that what pundits do? Expound, analyze, give us the benefit of their extensive learning? Pund seems to sum that all up, don’t you think? One nice, little, neat package of a verb: pund.
Anyway, these brilliant gentlemen were punding, as they regularly do for the benefit of us all, when they ended their exposition with the phrase, relating to someone’s effort, “if it is of God, it will be a success.”
To say that my jaw dropped would be a massive understatement. To say that it crashed through the floor beneath me would be a more apt description.
God? Success? What is that supposed to mean?
Of course, coming from New England, and so having been teethed, sated, and eventually choked on the writings those Pilgrim, Pilgrim-like, and Pilgrim-follower beings, I immediately thought of good, old Calvin.
(To prove my fluency with the ideas of these guys, I once took a course IN CALIFORNIA, a history course, on the founding ideas of this nation, and when I opened the textbook and found “my” guys singing their rants, I realized that I could read the book with my eyes closed tight, that’s how thoroughly New England teaches its own history. The civil war, on the other hand, was passed over quite neatly in under 15 minutes, with a wave of a hand and a comment about how some stupid Southerners (a resounding redundancy, but I put it in for the sake of non-New Englanders) needed to be straightened out by Northerners. This would be followed by a sigh. Of course.)
Where was I? Oh, yes. Calvin. The man who invented the idea that if you were one of the chosen by God, everyone would know it because your crops would flourish and you would be a rich man. A success, you could say. (Oh, right, I just did.)
Not surprisingly, I much prefer Anne Hutchinson, that amazingly outspoken woman, who spit in the face of Calvinism, and charged, if I’m chosen by God, then I’m chosen by God. Period. Why should I be out fretting over my beet crop?
Cool woman, that.
You can tell that this whole assertion that equals God with the concept of success has me going.
But here’s the deal: success is a relative term. It can be applied on a massively sliding scale. A child who manages to remember his lines during a Christmas pageant and to not fall off the front of the stage can be declared by his doting parents a success. An agency who completes their mission of bringing food into an area profoundly affected by a disaster is also considered successful. Discovering a cure for AIDS would be universally lauded a success.
Let’s look at this absurdity in another way:
If God is success, with “is” as a verb that equates things, then success is God. (God = success, and success = God.)
Can’t we think of all sorts of things that offend our sense of morality, but have experienced success? Bernie Madoff’s creative wage earning? The warring United States’s decisions to drop atomic bombs? The use of radium on clock faces?
And before you can say, well, Bernie Madoff’s not a success, he’s in jail, after all, stop a moment. Jesus went to jail. Gandhi went to jail. Martin Luther King went to jail.
So, if, in some sort of logic, being in jail represents failure, in terms of God, this creates something of conundrum, don’t you think?
The concept of success, as you can see, is so massively relative (that is, it’s dependent on something else to derive its meaning), that it could form the basis of extensive debate on just what is and what is not successful.
As Christians, our orientation must begin and end with the crucifixion of our lord. How does the word, success, apply to this? A friend answered that question, somewhat smugly, that, well, it’s not JUST the crucifixion, it’s also the resurrection. Isn’t the resurrection a success?
Is it? Yes, I suppose, in a way. I see the success (that is, a real, tangible success) in the way that the death of Jesus planted the seed of the Christian faith, and his resurrection provided the inspiration, the impetus for this faith to grow and grow and grow.
Even so, I find applying the term, success, to the life of Jesus to be very, very awkward. To me, it even desecrates what he took great pain to be his message: I come for this sinner, not the virtuous; I eat with prostitutes and tax collectors; here, eat my body and blood.
So way beyond the concept of success, it’s indescribable.
But Jesus, after all, was human, and so can have the concept of success applied to him. He successfully healed lepers and blind people; he successfully called to him his disciples; he successfully performed miracles as a manifestation of his father’s love for those around him.
But God is not human. God is not relative in any way whatsoever. God is absolute. God is absolutely absolute.
Merriam Webster defines absolute as being free from imperfection and restraint. I define absolute as existing for all times, in all places, and for everything. What God is, he is for everything, all the time, and everywhere. He does not change. His teachings do not change. He cannot be measured on some scale, or applied relatively to this and that, over here and over there.
God cannot, in any way, shape, or form, be considered a success. God cannot succeed. God is. Period. That’s all there is to it. And what God is is absolute. God’s love is absolute.
God cannot be a success because God cannot be a failure.
God cannot be a success because God does not try to do anything. God creates. Absolutely. Completely.
There is no beginning to God. There is no end to God. So, how then, can there be success in God, if there is never a time in God where we can all stop and judge God to be a success, or not?
Where do we get the permission or the inkling to judge God, to be a success or otherwise?
I’ve got to stop, or I’ll never stop.
Here endeth the rant.