She stepped into the large room that resonated with the voice of a round, sweaty, shirt-and-tie speaker. “The Lord”, “God sent Jesus”, “pre-ordained” boomed from up front of the half-filled room, repeated to redundancy above the heads of the slightly squirmy Sunday morning friends. “God is in control,” the speaker reiterated time and again, echoing the same religious jargon over and over.
Linguistics class at university had converted her into a wordsmith, so after the barrage ended she approached the preacher and explained that she was confused by his words. His answer sounded defensive and didn’t satisfy her curiosity. Could she detect beyond the arrogance a trickle of condescension?
She waited until he finished his second sermon of the day and asked, “So this guy Jesus, is he God or not?”
“Yes,” he replied, and as he took a long breath for another spiel of seminary theology, she jumped in with another question: “Then why do you talk about Jesus and God as two different people? It sounds confusing to me.” The preacher became visibly agitated, his facial lines sharpening. That monologue didn’t end well either.
She tuned out and decided to head to that chic diner she saw on the corner. As the preacher wound down, she backed away with what she thought were the usual churchy courtesies. She headed for the door, passing by the Sunday morning gatherers happily chatting among themselves. No one seemed to notice her, except one gray-haired man who smiled at her with sad eyes from the back row.
In the diner, she ordered a coffee and watched cyclists and pedestrians pass by, Sunday traffic was thin. She felt a tap on her shoulder, “May I join you?” It was that grey-haired man, wait, no it was a woman, but she looked just like him. “Yes,” and the women sat down.
The woman looked like she was in her 40’s yet with beautiful silvery hair and a warm smile. She ordered a burger and a red wine. Interesting combo, she thought, but said, “Do you have a twin brother?” The woman replied, “Oh him, well yes, in some ways he is my brother.”
The woman then asked her, “Do you come here a lot?”
“No, it just looked like a nice place.”
“Yeah, it is…how’s life anyway Debby? I haven’t seen you around for a while.”
She just paused to stare at this woman, wondering how she knew her name and not sure what to reply to such an odd question from a smiling stranger who seemed strangely familiar.
“Umm, yeah good, well ok, it’s just that I’m thinking a lot about what life is all about.” She bit her lip, surprised she was disclosing this to someone she’d just met. She continued, “Do I know you from somewhere? You seem kind of familiar.”
“Yes, we’ve met before,” the woman smiled then asked, “Debby, what is God like?”
She paused again and decided to share that she wondered if God controlled everyone, everything, every decision, like what that preacher was going on about “pre-ordained” and “election”. It all sounded so much like a puppet show, and she neither wanted to hear of God’s “goodness” nor the nauseating words that “He is in control”. She simply wanted to vomit in protest that such an “in control” God could be seen as the perfect measure of “good”. She went on to explain to the silver-haired lady that if God was the only one in control and we had no choice, then she didn’t want anything to do with him (and joked if that was the case it wasn’t her choice anyway!).
The woman nodded, agreeing, and smiled saying, “When I wonder what God’s like, I always look at Jesus. He is God, and he gave up any control that he had to live on earth. He didn’t control anyone, but he also didn’t allow evil to control him. He created a world where evil could exist so that our choices matter alongside his plan to redeem all people, out of love. What would that love be if we weren’t free to choose?”
“Kind of like a play that’s already been written and we’re just acting it out.”
“Not really genuine, right? But you, Debby, have always had a choice. Everyone does. Decisions are truly yours; there is no controlling puppeteer God. He doesn’t exist!” She finished with a big grin that showed some lettuce caught in her teeth.
Debby looked at her, slightly perplexed.
“Jesus seems out of control—God born powerless into poverty, motivated by love, to bring us control over evil, over our mistakes past and future, freedom from the finality of death, an eternal opportunity. And it all happens outside of religious jargon, it happens with people walking side by side. Like Jesus being with us as God, not a just a God-like guy or someone pointing us to what God is like. Jesus shows us who (not what) God truly is.”
She smiled at the woman and said, “So you know my name, but what is yours?” The woman smiled, “I am..,” and then a car screeched and they both looked. When Debby looked back she was sitting alone, the bill paid and her companion’s wine glass empty next to a few crumbs of the cheeseburger. A little note beside the bill said, “Nice talking with you! Let’s have lunch sometime again soon.”