off-putting God | John 4.48
So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” John 4:48 | ESV
Jesus was dismissive. “Everyone wants a show! And if you don’t get it, complete with a full array of signs and wonders, you’ll just go home sulking in unbelief.” MAV
That’s not exactly what we would expect to hear. “He loves us, oh how he loves us” we sing, and then we turn to him with this gaping hole of need, expecting him softly, tenderly to embrace us, to meet us, to fill in the gap, shore up the deficit – but instead we get “talk to the hand”?
How can a God who loves us so constantly seem to tell us “Go away”? And yet he does. Despite all the books we write and sermons we preach about how we can have whatever we ask for in prayer with detailed notes on the formula, we still hear him saying, “Go away.”
A distressed mother cries out after Jesus on behalf of her demonically-tormented daughter. But she’s a foreigner – worse than that, she’s one of those Canaanites that brought so much misery to Israel of old. But “God so loved the world,” right? “Lord help me!” And she doesn’t even get the courtesy of a verbalized “Go away.” She gets silence. She gets ignored. Undeterred she keeps after Jesus, yelling and causing quite the roadside scene. The disciples are beginning to look around nervously. No doubt Peter is closing the gap with Jesus, urging him under his breath to make her go away. But she won’t. She’s on her knees now, begging. Okay, this was just a test, right, and I pressed in, so I passed, right? At least he now turns to look at her – or does he? I can see his back still turned to her as he says, coolly, “It simply won’t do to take the children’s dinner and toss it to the dog.”
Ouch. Just saying, “Go away” would have been kinder. I don’t think I’ve seen this as a recommended response in most prayer ministry training for church altar calls.
But she persists. “Even the puppies under the table get the children’s crumbs.” Now he turns. Now he heals.
Good for her.
Not so good for the multitudes of those who go through life feeling ignored by the Divine. Too many of us are Trophimus, left sick at Miletus (2 Timothy 4:20). As we will soon see, there was a multitude of sick people filling that Temple courtyard waiting for the angelic hand to stir up healing waters that they might scrabble in first. Jesus healed one that day. One. Where were the nine?
This is a reality we need to allow to hang in the air for a bit, before we try to resolve it with verbal explanations and remedies. There are many names of God we celebrate: El Shaddai, Lord of Hosts, the Lord who Heals, the Lord our Banner. Off-putting God doesn’t make it onto most of our posters and devotional calendars. But that’s the face the aristocrat in Cana first sees.
“All you want is another performance. Go away.”
But the wealthy man lingers. And he bids us to join him.
When have you most recently felt ignored and told to “Go away” by God? How did you respond to the silence?
“Though he slay me, yet will I trust him,” prayed Job. I want to pray for such deep layers of trust but I fear to tread the path that leads there. Give me the grace to seek it still, to seek you still, to trust you still, and despite the pain and the put-offs I sense in life, to pray with Job, “Though you slay me, yet will I trust you.”