GOD 101: Understanding Inscrutability

My Writing

Understanding Inscrutability by Julia Marks

Do You Honor God?

Hippolytus of Rome
Translated from the Greek by Walter Mitchell

Do you honor God? Do you love him
—here’s the very feast for your pleasure.
Are you his servant, knowing his wishes?
—be glad with your Master, share his rejoicing.
Are you worn down with the labor of fasting?
—now is the time of your payment.

The Laborers in the Vineyard

For the kingdom of Heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.  After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard.  When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.”  So they went.  When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same.  And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, “Why are you standing here idle all day?”  They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.”  He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.”  When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.”  When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage.  Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage.  And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.”  But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong: did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?  Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you.  Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?  Or are you envious because I am generous?”  So the last will be first, and the first will be last. (Matthew 20:1-16)

And just who do you think you are, trying to tell me how to be? says God to Job.  God having finally come to his point of exhaustion with this whole let’s-experiment-with-one-of-my-beloveds-for-the-heck-of-it scheme.

I’m God, for Heaven’s sake! he finishes off with a flourish.  And we, right along with Job, shrug our shoulders, shake our heads, and mutter under our breath, Yeah, whatever.

Have you been working since early morning?
—now you will be paid what is fair.
Have you been here since the third hour?

—you can be thankful, you will be pleased.

A few Sundays ago, this was the reading that the sermon-of-the-day was based on.  After the service, a young man from the congregation came and sat with me and said, This is the hardest lesson for me.  I think this sermon helped.

You mean first will be last, that kind of thing? I asked.  Yup.

I wanted to say, this has got to be one of the easiest lessons in the Bible: with Jesus you can always count on two things – if he’s ranting he’s aiming his comments at the Pharisees and then expands the complaint to the entire universe.  Those who think a lot of themselves, most especially in terms their relationship with God, are ants under an elephant’s fat foot.

If you came at the sixth hour,
you may approach without fearing:

you will suffer no loss.
Did you linger till the ninth hour?
—come forward without hesitation.
What though you came at the eleventh hour?
—have no fear; it was not too late.

But, really.  This is one of those occasions when God hides in plain sight for all to see and with nobody noticing.

Do not try to tell me who I am, screams God, yet again.

God is a generous Sovereign,
treating the last to come as he treats the first arrival.

He allows all his workmen to rest—
those who began at the eleventh hour,
those who have worked from the first.
He is kind to the late-comer
and sees to the needs of the early,
gives to the one and gives to the other:
honors the deed and praises the motive.

God is the owner of the vineyard.  Who he hires, when he hires them, and how much he pays them is all up to God.

God, the inscrutable.

Join, then, all of you, join in our Master’s rejoicing.
You who were the first to come, you who came after,
come and collect now your wages.
Rich men and poor men, sing and dance together.
You that are hard on yourselves, you that are easy,
honor this day.
You that have fasted and you that have not,
make merry today.

I like it when “my” world intersects with the “real” world.  When my knowledge actually knocks on the door of the rest of the world.

In “my” world, or better, in “my” book, for that is what my life has been about really – amassing words, mostly unwritten, in a vast virtual book that nobody but me reads (until recently when I began to write it down, or try to write it down). . . .


In my book, there are two major sins: presumption and immodesty.

(The latter, she admits reluctantly, is what most of my objection against women’s ordination is based on.  But, no, I won’t go into that now.)

But the former, ah, there it is in this parable.

The meal is ready: come and enjoy it.
The calf is a fat one: you will not go hungry away.
There’s kindness for all to partake of and kindness to spare.

Presumption.  An audacious inference.  A bold speculation.

We’re alive.  Therefore, we know all about God.

So say the friends of Job.  Along with the rest of us.

Away with pleading of poverty:
the kingdom belongs to us all.
Away with bewailing of failings:
forgiveness has come from the grave.
Away with your fears of dying:
the death of our Savior has freed us from fear.
Death played the master: he has mastered death. . . .
The world below had scarcely known him in the flesh
when he rose and left it plunged in bitter mourning.

But God is not us.  Not in essence.  Not in practice.  A wisp of momentum here and there, perhaps.

But no spinal column.  No brain.  No skin.  That is to say, no limits.

Isaias knew it would be so.
The world of shadows mourned, he cried, when it met you,
mourned at its bringing low, wept at its deluding.

And somehow, in some way, infinite.



The shadows seized a body and found it was God;
they reached for Earth and what they held was Heaven;
they took what they could see: it was what no one sees.
Where is death’s goad? Where is the shadows’ victory?

We don’t want that.  To be unable.

Unable to define God.  To trace his outline with our fingers in the sand.

It makes our limits even more painful to be aware of.

Time.  Flesh.  Breath.

It all goes.  Somewhere.

And we can’t even know where.

Christ is risen: the world below is in ruins.
Christ is risen: the spirits of evil are fallen.
Christ is risen: the angels of God are rejoicing.
Christ is risen: the tombs are void of their dead.
Christ has indeed arisen from the dead,
the first of the sleepers.

So the trick to understanding God is this: whenever you find yourself going, ah ha, I’ve got it!

Know that whatever it is you think you’ve got is wrong.

Absolutely and completely wrong.

Otherwise, you are committing the sin of presumption.  Thinking that we know the truth is always the untruth.

Glory and power are his for ever and ever. Amen.


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