By Elyse Ambrose
Joel 2:14a: Who knows whether [God] will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind…
In my years of intentional relationship-building with God, I humbly confess that there is little I know about God. The “faith” aspect of this journey has been me clinging to hope when I am confounded, and rejoicing in the assurance that come-what-may, I am loved. (This love is the one thing I know about God.) It is this assurance that has sustained me through ecclesial violence, doubts and hopelessness, rejection, self-abnegation, and the everydayness of life.
When horrible things happen—like school shootings, for instance—I question God (and what God is doing with all those thoughts and prayers). I question God when black person after black person is murdered by police… when people have their own and their family’s lives thrown into turmoil because of the acts of zealous ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officers… when trans women of color are mercilessly cut down, and few cry out. Often, God does not answer—at least not in a way that helps me to know that God’s presence in justice and in mercy has been present. Many days, I live not actually knowing what God is doing.
Now, I do not look for God to miraculously intervene every time there is an injustice. In my theological education, I’ve studied theological frameworks of suffering, theodicy, liberation, and more. Some of these frameworks point toward some intrinsic quality of good within God that assures us we are not forsaken. Yet, more times than I would like to count, I have said/yelled/cried, “God, what are you doing?” “God, where are you?” “God, we are here trying our damnedest to hold evil at bay. What are you going to do?”
“Who knows what God will do?” I heard a preacher say this past week at the Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference, as he encouraged us to “blow our trumpet”—to speak against oppression and to use our resources to create space for those experiencing marginalization to do the same. Perhaps, God might leave a blessing as we do the work.
I allowed myself to sit with the questions: “Who knows whether God will leave a blessing?” “Who knows whether God will be totally silent?” “Who knows whether God will open this door?” “Who knows whether God will leave the door just as it is?” The preacher’s enlivening of these words of Joel’s lingered with me for the rest of the evening as I considered the implications of trusting in, leaning upon, serving, humbly seeking One is wholly unknowable. The sermon went on, and I stood there allowing this familiar doubt to nurture the seeds of my faith.
I remembered while in seminary and applying to Ph.D. programs that I narrowed my interests down to theology and to ethics. Ultimately, I chose ethics, figuring that since I had no idea what God is up to, at least I could discern and reflect with others about what humans ought to do. Now, as an academically trained Christian social ethicist, I continue to focus my attention, neither on what I would like for God to do, nor on what God may or may not be doing in this earthly journey of ours. After all, who knows what God will do?
Yet, may we all find peace and strength to continue to struggle and thrive, carried forward by the assurance of what we, prayerfully empowered by God, will do: seek justice, love kindness, and journey humbly.