It is all in what you are listening for

This story came by way of Rev. Nancy Allen who shared it at an Academy for Spiritual Formation in February 2017. If this story does not originate with her I am unsure of the source. 

There was a grandfather and grandson walking down the busy street in the city. Cars moving, trucks unloading cargo, people chatting in the cafe patios that ran along the sidewalk but the two walked hand in hand through the city streets with ease. Suddenly the grandfather stopped and said, "Do you hear that?!" 

Quickly the grandfather escorted his grandson to a flower box at the end of one of the cafe patios. Pulling back the flowers and the ivy, the grandfather exposed a nest where six baby birds where chirping. 

Amazed that his grandfather could hear such small birds over the noise of the city asked, "How did you hear those tiny birds?!" 

The old man reached into his pocket and pulled out a half dozen coins and threw them onto the ground where they pinged and rolled into the street. 

As the coins rolled into the street the young man noticed that everyone in the street cafe enjoying their coffee and conversation stopped, turned their heads and looked at the coins. 

The grandfather said, "It is all in what you are listening for."


The more we hear what we want to hear, the more deaf we become.

The more we see what we want to see, the more blind we will be.

The more we love what we want to love, the more we love ourselves. 

Work of God, God's Work and the Work of the Satan

In the previous post I shared a bit of what I saw to be the difference in the Work of God and God's Work. As a reminder here is the short list:

  • Healing (Work of God)  ----  Resurrecting (God's Work)
  • Guiding (Work of God)  ----  Influencing (God's Work)
  • Sustaining (Work of God)  ----  Abiding with (God's Work)
  • Reconciling (Work of God)  ----  Transforming (God's Work)

In a couple of emails I was asked if I could identify the role of Satan in all this. Regardless if you believe in a literal being or not, I think everyone agrees there is evil in the world. Christians personify God as a way to talk about God but Christians also know that God is beyond the personifications made. For instance God is not male or female but we talk about God being so in order to express something about the nature of God and humans. Likewise, many Christians personify evil in the character of Satan. Christians also know that evil is not limited to the personifications expressed. For instance, Satan is not a half man/goat hybrid with a pitchfork. 

Taking the above list of the work of God and the Church, I added the work of Satan:

  • Healing (Work of God)  ----  Resurrecting (God's Work)  ----  Hurting (Satan's Work)
  • Guiding (Work of God)  ----  Influencing (God's Work)  ----  Dictating (Satan's Work)
  • Sustaining (Work of God)  ----  Abiding with (God's Work)  ----  Abandoning (Satan's Work)
  • Reconciling (Work of God)  ----  Transforming (God's Work)  ----  Dividing (Satan's Work)

In some ways, the distinctions of these different "works" can also be seen in the difference in symbolic, parabolic and diabolic.

Doing the Work of God is Not the Same as Doing God's Work

The Church universal is an institution that attempts to do the Work of God. Among the number of specifics the Church does, there are at least four areas of the Work of God the Church engages in: healing, guiding, sustaining and reconciling.

However, doing the Work of God is not the same thing as doing God's Work. 

Take the four areas of the Work of God and consider how God's Work is related but distinct:

  • Healing (Work of God)  ----  Resurrecting (God's Work)
  • Guiding (Work of God)  ----  Influencing (God's Work)
  • Sustaining (Work of God)  ----  Abiding with (God's Work)
  • Reconciling (Work of God)  ----  Transforming (God's Work)

For example, the work of God is to be about healing, which is why the Church participates in hospitals and funerals. Healing is not the same as curing, which is why the Work of God is not about curing for there are things that will happen. The Work of God is toward healing (not curing) and God's work is resurrection. The Church trusts that death does not have the last word and the Church trusts that God will do God's work to bring resurrection.

Guiding is also the Work of God, which is why the Church participates in teaching and preaching. Guiding is not the same as directing, which is why the Church values mystery and questions. The Work of God is to guide and God's work is to influence. God does not coerce or threaten. God's power is expressed through vulnerability and thus God's work is to influence creation toward Shalom. 

Sustaining is also the Work of God, which is why the Church creates small groups and fosters community - in order to sustain us through the dark times. Of course there are times when the Church fails at her job and we abandon one another (see Jesus' trial). The Work of God is to sustain and God's Work is to abide. Because there are times and places that the Church is not able to be in and with, the Church trusts that God will abide with everyone - even when the Church fails. God's presence to abide with everyone at all times (omnipresent) is something that the Church can strive to do, but is never fully able to achieve.

Finally, reconciling is the Work of God, which is why practices of repentance, confession and forgiveness are critical to the Church. While the Church can work toward reconciliation, there are some cases where reconciliation may not be possible because of the depth of the wounds. The Work of God is to reconcile and God's work is to transform. It is by God's grace that we are transformed and where reconciliation was once impossible it is transformation that makes reconciliation possible.

Being a part of a Church is to engage in the Work of God, it is not to do God's Work.

How you know you have a healthy relationship with the Bible

There is a little tool called the Johari Window which is used to "help people better understand their relationship with themselves and others." It looks like this:

While it often is thought about in terms of human relationships, I believe it is also helpful to think about it in terms of our relationships with the Bible. In the above window, if we replace "others" along the "y axis" with "Bible" we have a slight variation to consider.

If something is known to the Bible and self, then this is what is "open". It is things where the evolutionary process and the Bible overlap. For instance, prohibition of homicide is an area of overlap in both evolutionary and Biblical terms. 

If something is known to the Bible and unknown to self, the this what is "blind". These are the things we might identify as the cultural context of the scripture writers. For instance, there are a number of cultural assumptions lost to time and translation when we read stories from the scripture. 

If something is hidden to the Bible and known to the self, this is what is "hidden". The hidden things in this context might include what the Biblical writers were unaware of, like scientific advances and discoveries. Scripture writers never could have known about the forces of thermodynamics or the dinosaurs. 

If something is hidden to the Bible and hidden to the self, this is what is "unknown". At least one thing in the "unknown" box would be the complete nature of God. Both scriptures and current humans cannot ever know the complete nature of God.

You know you have a healthy relationship with the Bible when you are always aware that the "unknown" box is much larger than most of us like to think that it is. Humility is important in interpersonal relationships. Humility is also important when in relationship with the Bible. If anyone teaches that the "unknown" is smaller compared to the other boxes (specifically the Open and Blind) chances are they are more blind than they think.