I meet with a group of people to do morning prayer over Zoom and the other day, the officiant decided that we would be reading Canticle 10. Though we’ve read this canticle together quite often, this particular day the words jumped out at me a bit more.
The author of the passage has just told people that they should seek God while God wills to be found, and for the wicked to turn from their ways. God, the author says, will have compassion on them, and God will richly pardon them of their transgressions.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,*
nor your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,*Canticle 10, 1979 Book of Common Prayer
so are my ways higher than your ways,
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
God’s ways are higher than our ways, it says. And God’s thoughts are higher than our own.
This doesn’t surprise me, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone. More often than not, our thoughts are not aligned with one who would richly pardon the wicked. Our hearts and minds can take a dark turn, at times, when we see the wicked flourish and the righteous suffer beyond what seems fair and just.
We seem to be wired to want leniency for those we deem worthy, and the harshest of penalties for those we consider evil. The idea of watching the evil go unpunished, and the wicked pardoned goes against every fiber of our natural beings.
We would rather see the wicked punished and the righteous flourish.
And, of course, we always count ourselves among the righteous.
We count ourselves among the righteous because it is far too easy to rationalize our own shortcomings and explain away all the reasons why we might have behaved a certain way. And at the same time we assign malicious intent to someone who does the exact same thing we have done – or continue to do – simply because we do not have the luxury of understanding their story like we understand our own story. Nor do the recipients of our blame and judgment have the benefit of writing their own story in the same way that we create the narrative of our own lives.
There is a center to the narrative we tell ourselves, a bright shining point of light, and that point of light we like to believe, is us. What happens, happens for a reason – either because we deserve it, or because others are to blame.
But God doesn’t see us at the center of the story. God sees the interconnection of all the stories, and God sees each of us as a story within a greater narrative. It is a grand story of love and acceptance, of joy and of pain, of beauty and suffering, of transgression and rich pardon.
And still, that is not my way. At least not the way I would want to see God working in the world. Not on those days where I feel that I’ve seen too much evil and suffering in the world, and would rather see the God of smiting, rather than the God of pardon.
But that is part of our story too. To align our ways to the ways of God, so that God’s ways might ever become more of our ways.
Mike is a jack of all trades, master of none. He’s a data analyst, programmer, and loves to cook. If he doesn’t have his face buried in a book or is staring blankly at a computer screen, you can find him on a motorcycle, enjoying the ride.
Mike holds a Masters of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary, and is a postulant for Holy Orders in the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona. He will attend Sewanee School of Theology for a year of Anglican Studies in the Fall of 2022.