Rebecca K. Reynolds

Honest Company for the Journey

“On a Ten Scale”


When we first got married, I was dumb enough to ask my husband a question no wife should ever ask—and he was dumb enough to answer honestly.


I had enough close man friends to know that guys (even Christian guys) often rank women on a scale of 1-10, and I wanted to know where I stood.


By nature, I’m the sort who constantly assesses data. Somehow knowing the absolute truth (good news or bad) felt like a responsible part of being a woman on planet earth. I knew that if I assumed too high, I could end up going out on a limb and looking like a fool. Too low, and I wouldn’t maximize my potential leverage as a female in culture—a capacity too often limited by a woman’s physical appearance.


So, I caught my poor young husband at a vulnerable moment and made him nail down a number. I’m not going to tell you what he said. I will tell you that the number did something permanent inside me.


I considered it generous. Took a deep breath. And from that point onward, I embraced it as cold, hard fact.


I would look at other women and think about what their number was, then I would think of my own. I don’t remember thinking ill of those who might fall lower. I do remember feeling a need to defer to those who would rank higher.


Because I’m a visual artist, I had pretty strong ability to look at my essential features and know what could and couldn’t be changed about me. Working out is good, getting a tan is nice, but I knew none of this would bump me up more than half a point or point. I had certain limitations effort couldn’t negate. No matter what effort I put into my hair or clothes, there would always be a woman who could slip on a pair of denim shorts and an old t-shirt, throw her hair in a pony tail, and still be a 10. And she would have more power because of this.


Eventually, I looked out into the world and decided what I could and couldn’t do—what I could and couldn’t be—within the parameters of my number. As a female, I could be respectable but not powerful. I could be beneficial but not moving. I could be a companion but not a muse.


I watched from the sidelines and noticed how other men treated men with 5’2”, blonde trophy wives. I watched how a woman’s number played out in a thousand scenarios—like a meeting I attended with hospital executives. Another woman and I entered a room full of men. She was shorter. Blonde. Cute. Her number would have been at least three points higher than mine.


I don’t remember what compliments those men lavished upon her. I do remember her smiling like someone who got the same response everywhere, and also that awful next moment when an older male friend was sensitive enough realize nobody had said anything so complimentary to me. He spoke up with a sincere-sounding but obligatory, “And you, too.” The other men mumbled in polite agreement, realizing their error. I wanted to sink through the floor.


Now that I’m older, different numbers seem to matter more. In artistic community, some writers are 10s. When their names are mentioned, a flurry of affirmations naturally rises.


They seem to be effortlessly relevant. Restrained on social media. Vulnerable yes, but in attractive, careful ways. The look. The credentials. The eloquence. They read what’s just right. They go places and post pictures that seem like snapshots of fullness.


All their pieces fit together into a balanced whole. They are welcomed into forums. They are invited to travel and speak.


And there’s a fraternity to it all. Tens recognize one another at events and take pictures together because there’s a mutual respect and trust among them.


My writer number is similar to the rank I held for a long time as a female. I’m not a big deal. I’m fairly respectable, but I’m not powerful. I’m sometimes beneficial but not culture moving. I’m a companion to a few but not a muse for a movement.


My personality is awkward in some ways branding can’t fix. I’ll never be Nashville relevant.


And, it’s funny, I still feel the same old embarrassment I felt over other limitations. I show people a little bit of me. Then, as I look out into the world and see writers with magnificent minds, and vast stores of deep knowledge, and experiences that I will never be able to reference, I regret the foolish clank of my two mites thrown in a pot, and I want to run and hide away in shame.


“What do you have to offer?” I hear whispered from the darkness.


Reality burns, so I retreat and back off and watch from a distance while those who are clearly made for influential community get out there and run in packs.


They will know what to say. They will know how to say it.


“Who do you think you are?” A second accusation hits out of the silence.


When the Bible talks about boasting in our weakness, I always assume it means weaknesses like a 5’2” blonde cutie with a pimple on her perfect nose. Or, I assume it means the scholar-writer with razor wit who goes to edgy coffee shops and live concerts while wearing the jeans-du-jour—but dropped his journal in the trash by mistake.


A doll with a blemish. An icon who fumbled.


Not people like me. Not the ones who will never even get in the B range. Out of self-defense, I want to assess reality, absorb the blow of my limitations, and live invisible.


But this morning, after finishing one of my regular deletion frenzies, feeling stupid for reaching out and believing my words mattered, I felt a hot rumble in my soul. “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."


Humans rank humans. Humans rank, and rank, and rank humans. The Bible tells me so. There are things man “looks at,” and there are assessments that rule culture—and I am barely passing on any of those standards.


But here in the quiet, God kicks away all constructs.  The physical beauty that never was high enough. The relevance that never hit hip. The little habits and preferences known by gentility but not to someone like me. The intelligence that never reached brilliance. The numbers, the brackets, the everything I’m not.


There’s something beyond all this God sees, knows, values—even loves. He treasures me, and it’s the oddest thing in the world to believe that. He sees worth in my receptivity. That’s enough for the God who made an entire universe out of nothing.

Edvard Munch  Femme á sa toilette , 1892.

Edvard Munch Femme á sa toilette, 1892.

“The Snap of Thanos and the God Who Flooded Humanity”


If you haven’t seen Endgame, stop reading now.  I’ll try not to post any spoilers until I get a few paragraphs deep, but I am eventually going to drop a few. Consider yourselves forewarned.


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So, I loved Endgame. I laughed, I cried, I clapped and shouted, “No!” in the theater. Just behind Shazam, the multiverse Spiderman, and Wonder Woman, Endgame falls right in line with my top superhero movies of all time.


The CGI battle scenes were try-not-to-stand-on-the-theater-seat epic. Relational tension and resolve were near perfection, considering the genre and backstories. 


Watching what time does to human hearts broken by failure, loss, and disillusionment felt honest. What do we do when it all falls apart? Some of us organize. Some of us hide and drink. Some of us join support groups. Some of us let the anger of losing it all drive us to destroy.


I loved the camaraderie of a risk-it-all fellowship; the fierce determination of a band of women standing firm and proclaiming, “Just so you know, she has backup”; the way best friends fight to beat each other to die for each other.


The end... well, the end broke my heart because “that guy” has always been my favorite superhero. I didn’t cry during, “Mr. Stark, I don’t feel so good.” This one— this one hurt. I’m still not okay about it.


Despite all this, Endgame dug a little too deep into the Mines of Moria for me, unearthing an ache that probably bears discussion. Actually, I almost wrote about this after seeing Infinity War, but I decided to wait and see how EG turned out. Now I know.


Before I hit on this, though, please understand what I’m not saying. I’m not saying the movie is bad. I’m not saying the movie is anti-Christian propaganda or that masses of people should protest it, or anything of the sort. I’m writing about this confessionally—like I might write about a classic book like 1984 or a classic movie like the 1968 Planet of the Apes—both of which I love.  I’m saying, “What’s here? Why is it here? What does this film reveal about my own fears, wounds, and suspicions and those of our present culture?” This post is exploratory, not condemning. It asks what we can learn from a flicker on the screen of the human consciousness.


For a couple of years, friends (like David Mitchel) and I have been talking about how the greatest opposing force facing modern Christianity isn’t obvious evil. Our fiercest opponent is human morality that considers itself superior to the morality of God.


Chesterton wrote about the danger of virtues splitting off and separating from their core a hundred years ago, and his warning has come to fruition in 2019. Nobody cares about Nietzsche’s “God is dead” these days. The resistance of our time isn’t atheistic but accusatory. It points a finger and says, “That God is immoral.”


“After all, he commanded certain people to be stoned for hundreds of years.”


“After all, he commanded women to sit outside their own community during their monthly periods.”


“After all, he rained down fire, and caused horrible plagues, and slaughtered firstborn babies.”


“After all, he lets people go into eternal torment if they don’t check off the right belief box before they croak.”


“After all, he snapped his fingers and, ‘Poof,’ he turned all the people of the world to dust except for a single family in a boat—hoping to reboot a broken, self-destructive world.”


Sound familiar?


The first time I read 1984, I broke out into a cold sweat when I read about Big Brother’s demand for love instead of mere obedience. I could feel the theological tension. Whether Orwell meant it or not, the soteriological parallel nearly choked me—the severity of an impossible dilemma: either learn to feel devotion from the heart or experience endless torment. There is no middle ground.


I was horrified. Paralyzed.


I felt something similar watching Thanos.


My soul began to cry out, “Who? Who has the right to eliminate so much of the population, simply because he sees how broken it is?”


Then, in the dark of that theater, my second sight flashed with a Citizen Kane newsreel. I saw human masses drowned by a global flood. I saw entire cities obliterated by fiery hail. I saw Lot’s wife turning to a pillar of salt.


Before me roared Thanos with a cruel hand wrapped around the neck of Nebula, that quivering daughter who is never good enough. He demands utter allegiance or else...or else...


Pulling the blanket I always carry into the theater up around my neck, overcome by the cold fear of God, I shivered.


I say “cold fear” because this sensation is very different from what I call the “hot fear” of God. The cold fear of God is the stuff of my nightmares—not the stuff of my worship.


The cold fear of God whispers that he is demanding, detached, and heartless.


The cold fear of God whispers that he is egotistical, demanding allegiance at the cost of the eternal suffering of his lessers.


The cold fear of God whispers that he has a favorite daughter, and I will never be she—no matter what I sacrifice.


The cold fear of God whispers that his goodness isn’t really good—that he is an alien force who sits with mad patience on a distant rock, churning over a skewed ethic, and counting down the seconds until he can snap us all to dust.


I don’t know if there will be a literal Rapture. Most of my friends think this concept was invented by John Darby in the 1800’s. I don’t really agree with them because I’ve read stuff that makes me think otherwise, but I’m also not fully on board with the pretribbers. In this age where everybody is sure about everything, I don’t know this. I’ll have to study more to figure out where I stand.


But after watching Infinity War, I realized that if such a thing ever should happen, it will be interpreted by those who remain as the work of a Thanos-type power. It will make resistance seem just. It will rally the troops, spiritual and earthly, and as they attempt to defy the “One Who Removed,” they will feel noble and right.


My family kept asking me why I was so quiet on the ride home. This is why.


I didn’t want to talk about it yet.


I needed time for the hot fear of God to replace the cold.


Sitting in that theater, I felt the recurrence of the Edenic slither, I heard the echo of, “Eve, hath God really said,” and the, “Don’t you want to be like God?”


“After all, Eve, you could do this so much better.”


So I needed time to back away from the CGI—the portals—the shining powers—the glorious masses of Wakanda—time to shake off the roar of a thousand secondary virtues that work within a 3-hour redemption plot and spend time with Virtue Proper. 


I needed to find the metanarrative within which all lesser narratives live, straining and reaching for what will only be revealed in full in the final “Ah-ha!”


I needed to bathe my own battle wounds—wounds of suspicion and accusation of the divine—in the blood of the God who not only has a moral right to remove life but who  spread a glove full of Infinity stones wide and allowed humanity drive a hard stake right through it.


I needed to remember that he will not break a bruised reed. I needed to remember how he knelt to wash the feet of fishermen. I needed to remember how prostitutes, and children, and thieves were drawn to his gentleness. I needed to remember that the groves were his first temples. I needed to remember that his mercies are new every morning.


I needed the hot and holy fear that warms me like a fire—the fear that is the true beginning of wisdom—the fear that roots itself in ethos not just logos—the fear that is more awe than terror—the fear that entails a clear and honest vision of my own limitations more than paranoia over a cage full of rats.


I needed the fear that says, “Good emanates from You, Oh Lord. It is not the sum total of all human virtues.”


I needed a paradox that can never be caught in a straw man. I needed the complexity of a living Person.  I needed the magnitude of Job 38:


“Brace yourself like a man;

    I will question you,

    and you shall answer me.

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?

    Tell me, if you understand.

Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!

    Who stretched a measuring line across it?

On what were its footings set,

    or who laid its cornerstone—

while the morning stars sang together

    and all the angels shouted for joy?”


I needed to remember the trilliums that bloom in the mountains.


I needed to remember the deep-forest birth of a doe who will never be seen by the eyes of a human.


I needed to remember the Story before all stories.


I needed to see a glimpse of a God whose ways are incomprehensible at times, who does not fit neatly into a Jungian archetype, nor into one of Vladimir Propp’s file folders, nor into one of Joseph Campbell’s reductions—but a God who cannot be deconstructed on a dissection table by Turgenev’s Bazarov, then boxed in to some mad “Other.”


No genus. No species. He is what he is. The Alpha and the Omega. The beginning and the end.


Behold the holy severity and the paternal tenderness of a Living God.


I do not understand all of the hard things done by my Lord, but I do understand this. For of all the things he could have done with the darkness of the heart of humanity, he chose to be born among simple people and beasts of burden. He chose to be despised, to allow himself to be beaten, to allow himself to be stretched out and nailed to a cross so that people like you and me might have life.


Then he said, “Take this gift I give you. Take it quickly to all the earth, and offer it to everybody you see. Throw it like silver dollars from a parade float. Distribute it like antivenin. Go. Go. Go. Give it away, and give it away again, and give yourselves as I give to you, so that as humanity self-destructs, it might instead have life and have it abundantly.”


This was the cosmic snap. The snap of a God allowing himself to be stuffed into a tomb that became a portal for everyone you know.


Then I saw the whole thing more clearly.


God is not Thanos.


Thanos is the work of governments deciding which lives are not worth living. Thanos is the work of governments deciding which lives are not worth protecting.


Thanos is the work of governments crawling in bed with men who prostitute imitations of religion to maneuver the masses. Thanos is every alternative human morality that says, “We will be like God without God.”


At this, I feel my spirit kneel in wonder, as the illusion slowly turns inside out. Sweet, hot fear chases away the cold, burning away my suspicion and resistance.


This is not a forced love. This is a human looking into the white hot center of the universe and seeing that it shines, and simply calling light light.


All things hold together in him. All things. When the serpentine cold fear returns—when I listen to, “He doesn’t want you to know good from evil, see?”—when I place him in the dock as a suspect—I forget the evidence. My name is carved into his hands. When he had the chance to take it all, he gave to us instead.

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​Seventh Grade Grammar and a Gillette Ad about “Toxic Masculinity”

Twitter is full of fury today, claiming Gillette’s ad about “toxic masculinity” is an attack against men in general. However, applying basic, seventh grade grammar shows why this accusation is illogical.


In Gillette’s ad, “toxic” is an adjective modifying the noun “masculinity.” By definition, adjectives distinguish a noun’s type.


By using an adjective+noun construction, Gillette was specifying which sort of masculinity is harmful.


If you will look at the photo included with this post, you will see how switching an adjective changes the noun. Gillette’s ad compares toxic masculinity with healthy masculinity. It calls America to the latter.


Gillette is not demeaning masculinity in general. It’s not accusing all men of being monsters.


It is asking our nation to grow a healthy masculinity—one that protects others with strength instead of harming or using them.


Hopefully this week’s brouhaha is a simply result of a gross misunderstanding, another knee-jerk in a trigger-happy world primed to rage. From what I’ve read on social media, it seems like a lot of folks misread the title, made assumptions, and roared before thinking. While America is top-down full of sloppy, reactive Tweeters, I can’t quite believe we want our men to be violent, disrespectful abusers. Surely, we’re better than that.

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Maybe

Maybe Jesus wants you to be a little chubby

with a yard sale coffee table.


Back when he was knitting you together

inside your momma’s tummy

(decorating her like he decorated the Virgin Mary,

with holy stretch marks and a bonus layer

of blessed belly fat),

perhaps he had a plan for you

to grow up to be strong instead of just skinny.


Maybe the Good Lord knew that So-and-So

would shut you out

(or shut you down) if you were

one more double-zero for Jesus.


Maybe in the endless scope of eternal souls,

he had a reason for hovering over the darkness

and planting his voice

in the precise size of you.


Consider the remote possibility

that God didn’t mess up when he made you.


Consider the remote possibility that a perfect God

made you the exact sort of perfect you are

so that you could hold up your head and walk

like a daughter of the King.


What if he looked down on

a world hooked on porn and little butts in yoga pants

and said, “My daughter will teach them

how dignity looks.”


Perhaps he called you to wipe the tears of

women who hate themselves,

women who step on the scales every morning

and measure their worth in pounds of dirt.


And while we’re at it,

maybe that $10 beat-up coffee table

is part of the plan, too.


Maybe Mrs. Instagram-with-everything-new

needs to sit on your worn out old couch for an hour

and see how comfortable you are with the world to come.


Maybe she needs to cook with you

on your 1980’s linoleum floor,

sticking her finger in the batter of the flavor of joy

you can only whip up in a room just like that.


Maybe you’re not all wrong but all right--

and not just all right but just perfect

for this moment right now,

called by God to believe only

that he has a plan for the you

you already are.

photo credit cohdra, morguefile

photo credit cohdra, morguefile

But could a God like that be good? (Part 1)

 
Photo by Lisaleo on Morguefile

Photo by Lisaleo on Morguefile

The fiercest and most common objections I hear about Christianity aren’t scientific or historical but moral.

Millions of dollars are spent on faith-based training programs trying to argue that the Bible wields academic heft in a post-Enlightenment world, but the real crux of modern atheism doesn’t quiver before the intellectual force of the Scriptures.

Very simply, most atheists don’t like the God of the Bible because they think he isn’t moral. They think God is narcissistic, savage, inconsistent, moody, sexist, racist, and primitive.

I’ve met few Christians who are able to empathize and engage with this barrier. They shake their heads and say that atheists “just don’t get it.” They slap on a platitude. But for the most part, Christians aren’t sure how to respond to the argument that if the God of the Bible is real, he’s not the sort of leader modern humans should trust.

God has allowed this barrier to impact people I love deeply, so I’ve not been able to dismiss it like some Christians. Even if I apply childlike trust to my own faith, my heart still reaches back to plead for those who cannot believe so easily. The Lord has kept me in a strange and difficult place—a place of loving him while also understanding why friends are angry about how they perceive God.

So, I want to try to talk about this issue with respect for those who disagree with me. I want to try to explain why (at least some) atheists have such a hard time wanting to engage with the God of the Bible. And I also want to share a couple of thoughts about how I’ve processed their honest apprehensions.

1. Atheists believe the the God of the Bible is inhumane.

They have heard bits and pieces of the Old Testament— verses about mass slaughter, the stoning of homosexuals, and punishing women who were raped. They have read verses that condone slavery and advocate for treating females unequally.

While Christians tend to say, “But that was the Old Testament!” it’s very difficult for someone who isn’t all that familiar with the Bible to see how 1300 years of the Mosaic Law fit into a larger narrative context. To someone who doesn’t understand how many years the Bible actually spans, or what the different covenants communicated, the words of Deuteronomy and Galatians seem to hold equal weight.

2. Christianity has lost cred because of misapplications of the Bible.

If atheists are confused about Biblical interpretation, they have good reason. Over the centuries, a great many so-called Christians have yanked random verses out of context to try to gain cultural power. Biblical verses have been misapplied to support American slavery, the abuse of women and children, wicked political leaders, and cruelty toward the desperate. Just as satan used the Scripture during Christ’s temptation in the desert, wicked men have quoted the Bible while promoting darkness.

Before we get all defensive about this and say, “Yeah, but those teachers weren’t legit!” we need to think seriously about how trust works. Aristotle taught that ethos (personal credibility) was far more persuasive than logos (facts) or pathos (emotions). Jesus taught something similar when he explained that bad fruit falls from a bad tree.

To ask people to immediately embrace a belief system that (in their view) has proven cruel is unrealistic. Jesus warned us about the impact of false religion, and our society is now facing the consequences he told us would come. Grave damage has been done, and it’s probably going to take a lot of time in the company of real faith to even begin to repair those wounds.

People who have been deeply disappointed in religion need to test the waters, need to push on the walls, need to shake the foundations. That’s not just because those people are weak—it’s because they’ve been exposed to a false version of Christianity that hasn’t held to its core.

3. Even the New Testament can be morally confusing to the modern reader. It would be different if every baffling verse were packed away in the pre-Christ books, but even in the epistles, we find passages that provoke the modern, humanistic conscience. Beautiful commands to feed the poor, die to self, and serve the weak are juxtaposed alongside commands for women to keep silent in the churches and for slaves to obey their masters.

Concepts like predestination and hell feel profoundly unjust. Atheists ask, “How could a mortal resist the plan of God? And why should a soul face eternal consequences for a temporary choice?”

4. Perhaps even more offensive than all of these things is God’s determination to require faith of a society that worships empirical proofs. Modern America doesn’t build temples to gods made of wood and stone, but we have idolized an epistemology built upon the reliability of human perception. Despite the inability of empirical science to provide primary proofs—despite its ultimate reliance upon presuppositions built upon blind faith, a weakness even the founders of empiricism openly acknowledged—modern academia feels no qualms about demanding secondary proofs. Any deity who fails to jump through these hoops is deemed a bad sport.

I believe the Bible is true, and I believe that God is good. But I also understand why questions like these catch in the throats of the atheists of my time.

It’s hard for me to write this next bit, but I also think it’s pretty important. Sometimes what’s called “faith” is really just a lack of empathy.

I don’t mean that everybody needs to become a melancholy, cynical doubter. Not everyone is wired like that. But a lot of people who call themselves Christians aren't just pragmatic--they are fundamentally selfish about their own faith.

They have checked off the salvation box, and those who haven’t don't really keep them up nights. Once they’ve signed the dotted line on their own fire insurance, they move on to accumulate as much wealth and happiness on this planet as they can, huddling in groups with people who agree with them, and not caring all that much who makes it out with them in the end.

The politicization of the American church has exacerbated this problem. The we/them mentality has helped us divide the world into good guys and bad guys. If we are honest, a lot of Christians are truly more concerned about LGBTQ rights than they are about LGBTQ souls. A lot of Christians are truly more concerned about protecting the free market than they are about helping the poor. A lot of Christians are truly more passionate about proving their liberal family members wrong online than they are about where those family members will spend eternity.

Empathy doesn’t alter what the Bible teaches about holiness. Compassion doesn’t turn us into moral relativists. But these traits can expose our idols and show us that sometimes we have minor gods standing between us and the Pearl of Great price. Sometimes we think we are worshipping Jesus when really we are just trying to save our own skins.

I’m writing this post as a political conservative and as an orthodox Christian. I hold to old creeds and confessions and to inerrancy. Making room to care about the questions I see atheists asking hasn’t undermined my faith in Jesus.

The church is spending so much energy trying to convince the unbelieving world that the Scriptures are true, but perhaps the church needs to talk less about this and more about real heart of the matter--how the unconventional God of the Bible could possibly be good.

I’ll try to spend some time over the next few weeks unpacking my thoughts on that. For now, this post is too long already.

The Smell of a Dead Monk

Father Zossima is the kind old monk in Dostoevsky’s The Brother’s Karamazov.  He’s similar to Bishop Myriel in Les Mis, an otherworldly sage who has learned to live out the gospel in a radical way.

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Father Zossima is also the beloved spiritual mentor of Alyosha, the hero of the novel and the youngest of the three Karamazov brothers.  Aloysha is only twenty, and he’s a novice in the local monastery, so he trusts Father Zossima wholeheartedly, agreeing to follow whatever instruction the old man gives. Because Aloysha’s biological father has been distant for most of his  life, it’s easy to see why this young man gravitates toward kindly, paternal affection.

Father Zossima is also a local celebrity, known for spiritual access to healing and prophecy. It’s widely suspected that the old man will be sainted when he dies, so when his earthly life finally draws to a close, the townspeople grow to a frenzy. Expecting miracles, they bring family members who need healing to his coffin.

Yet at this critical moment in the novel, something terrible and unexpected happens—something which shakes Alyosha’s faith. Father Zossima’s body begins to decay.

At the time, tradition taught that a true saint’s body wouldn’t decompose—that it would even release a perfumed sweetness into the air. Yet within hours—even sooner than most—the scent of real, human death fills the room.

Several monks who had been jealous of Zossima’s fame and admiration seized this opportunity to mock and deride him. Soon, their whispers grew to open verbal hostility, and finally a hateful monk enters the mourning room to lambast the dead father as a false teacher.

Alyosha’s naïve young heart breaks.

He had not only loved the old man, he had lived inside a bubble of spiritual idealism, believing a string of religious fairy tales. When reality didn’t match his expectations, Alyosha was spiritually undone, overcome with doubt, devastated that all had not gone as he expected.

I read this section of Karamazov after midnight last night. I read because I couldn’t sleep because I was worrying. Though God tells us not to fear, I was afraid.

Beside me, my husband groaned in his sleep. He hurt his back pretty badly yesterday, and of all the times that injury could have happened to our family, this is one of the worst. Yesterday was our first day of switching to a new insurance with a new deductible, and after several nervous hours of Googling bulging and ruptured discs, I was trying to decide whether he needed an MRI.

For some of you, hits like this never seem to stop. There’s always one more kink in the happily ever after.

Even if you’ve never believed in the prosperity gospel, the theological promises of movies like Facing the Giants get into our bones. In the back of our hearts, we still expect faithful resignation to be blessed in visible ways. The follower of Jesus will coach the team to winning the championship, snag the new pickup truck, get the baby, and look at last around at his mortal life and find that all is well.

Some stories of faith certainly look like this, but in others, the blessings of God may smell more like a dead monk. That’s because God knows what each of his followers needs (truly needs), and his love allows different challenges for different Christians. He knows that coming face-to-face with deep disappointment can be critical to the maturity of faith.

As Alyosha comes to terms with the smell of death in his mentor, he faces,  “a crisis and turning-point in his spiritual development, giving a shock to his intellect.” Perhaps you’ve lived out a similar shock—perhaps you know what questions rise when we realize that God’s behavior does not fit into the tiny boxes we have made to hold Him. These moments of reorientation may be painful and bitter, and we may weep for days when we face them. But like Alyosha, they can also grow us up.

By his deepest disappointment, by this brutal blow to the crux of his security and idealism, Alyosha faith was strengthened. Because of the pain of a lost ideal, his belief was given a "definite aim.”

As I prayed this morning, I felt the onslaught of challenges facing our family. I prayed for direction. I prayed for sustenance and for miracles. I also prayed for the ability to worship God in rooms that reek of death.

On June 8, a team of scientists from Oxford published research addressing the Fermi paradox, the gap between our expectation that life exists somewhere in the universe and our inability to find it. This study concludes that we cannot find extraterrestrial life because it doesn’t exist.

Since I haven’t seen the Bible specifically negate the possibility of alien life, this has never been a major theological battlefield for me. I’ve always trusted that an infinite God could have simultaneous narratives running in different solar systems (or even in different dimensions). I’ve supposed that if he did have something like that going on, all narratives would one day fold together into a lovely story he knows we can’t comprehend with tiny mortal minds.

I haven’t obsessed about it, of course; I haven’t actively believed that life did exist elsewhere. I’ve just held the possibility loosely. I’ve let what God left unsaid remain mysterious.

So, it was strange to read the Oxford study and consider the thought that humans might actually be alone in the universe. I stopped to really think about that--we could be the only beings anywhere with souls. In all of this everything that goes on seemingly forever, our capacity for worship could be unique.

Maybe this won't hit you like it hits me--astronomy and I have kind of a "thing" going, and we have for a while. It’s more of a romance than an academic passion. I’m one of those weirdos who cries real tears when NASA releases new pics of Jupiter and Pluto. Star nebulae give me goose bumps. As a baby, my first sentence was, “The moon is in the sky, Mr. Hall.”

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I have felt reverent awe for God’s artistry in the heavens every since I can remember, a sense of being pressed down to my knees by the all-I-am-not, a compression like gravity. The created order is so beautiful, so extravagant... I’m tempted to use the word “magical.”

Without that Oxford study, assuming that we could possibly be alone in all of this feels audacious. History has slapped the hand of the small-minded church too many times. My faith is post Copernicus, post Galileo—I don’t have geocentric impulses.

And yet, here is science telling me that we could be alone.

I wasn't expecting to be taken so seriously by my Creator.

What if He really did make all of this--the dimension of time--the capacity for sentience--the ability to praise--all poured into a handful of creatures placed on one tiny, tumbling rock? What if our hymns are the only hymns besides those songs the angels sing?

The circumstances which seem so grave to me--the challenges that make my belly quiver and my knees shake--readjust in light of this possibility.

My pain and fear are portals in all of space and time, and even when I face the smell of the decomposition of my theological fairy tales, I still stand before the God who was, and who is, and who always will be.

Here in the silence of the created order, I can speak trust to Him. I can yield to Him. Among all the cold rocks and the fiery gasses of all of creation, I have been given the capacity to hold my arms wide before all his mysteries and confess:

I did not see you lay the foundation of the earth.
I did not determine its measurements.
I do not know how its bases were sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy.

I did not see you shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb,
I was not there when you made clouds its garment
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
and prescribed limits for it
and set bars and doors,
saying “Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stayed.”

I have never commanded the morning since my days began,
or caused the dawn to know its place.
I have never changed its surfaces
l like clay under the seal,
or dressed the earth like a garment.

I have never entered into the springs of the sea,
or walked in the recesses of the deep.
I have never seen the gates of death or the gates of deep darkness.
I cannot comprehend the expanse of the earth.

Only by your hand, do I know the way to the dwelling of light,
because you are the Light of the World,
and amid all of the lesser lights of all You have made,
you, Great Light, have come to give light to me.

While a soulless Jupiter storms, while distant stars implode, while the red dust of Mars holds low in a lifeless hush, while no-man of the moon paints every grass tip silver, I can recline upon Jesus.

No matter what happens in my life, He is worthy. Though the good, dead monk reeks, Christ remains a center which cannot be shaken. And He has given me a voice that is able to praise Him. Thanks be to God.