Unbearable God

Clare L. Hickman

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Ferndale

June 16, 2019—Trinity Sunday, C

Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15      


          "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (John 16:12). How tender this phrase is, as Jesus looks at the disciples he knows so well. He knows their strengths and their weaknesses. Knows what they long for, and what they fear. Knows what they need … and knows whether they are ready for it.

So many things to say. So many of them beyond what we can bear, for one reason or another. Which is an interesting thing to contemplate, as Karoline Lewis of Working Preacher notes, as we consider the nature of God on Trinity Sunday.[i]

What truths can we not bear about God? It’s worth asking. Especially on this feast that reminds us that God’s nature is mysterious and complex: three persons in relationship, in a balanced tension, perhaps, with each other. So if we truly wish to glorify this God of ours, we too need to come into tension (into relationship) with the parts of God that we cannot bear.

Let’s begin with the basic issue of immanence and transcendence: a God who is right here, and at the same time beyond “here.” What do you find harder to bear about God? That He is too close, or too far away? Not impressively grand and powerful enough? Or not warm and relatable enough?

          So many things. What can you not bear about God?

Can you not bear the fact that God loves and forgives you, when you are so very flawed? Can we bear a God who extends so much grace? Who pays the person who worked one hour the same as one who worked all day, despite how unfair that clearly is? Can we accept that we are forgiven, even though the sins we commit are the same ones we have committed over and over in our lives? Can we really respect a God who hasn’t given up on us yet?

          What can you not bear about God? Perhaps, for you, the hard part is a God who loves and forgives other people, whom you believe undeserving. You know who I’m talking about! Can we bear a God whose vision is so much larger than our own? Who can accept the limitations and particularities of other people as easily as He accepts ours? A God who knows that we are all muddling our way through this life, and even the worst of us could turn towards the good if given a chance. A God who gives that chance, and doesn’t assign us to follow up and make sure that person deserved that chance? Can we live with a God who thinks so rashly? So generously? So hopefully?

What can you not bear about God? Maybe a history of fire and brimstone preachers has made you jumpy about a God who indeed calls us to account, demanding that we pay more attention to the ways and values of the realm of God. Can we bear a God who notices when we are petty and selfish? When we lie or steal? When we do harm, when we fail to do good, when we refuse to bear witness to the hope that lies within us? Can we raise our eyes to that God; can we believe more powerfully in forgiveness than condemnation; and ask for the strength to be better?

What can you not bear? How about a God who suffers and seemingly fails, a God who dies on a cross? Can we bear a God like that, whom the Greeks mocked because they would rather curry the favor of an omnipotent deity? Can we trust this God whose strength is weakness, and resist the urge to transform Her into an all-powerful being who will fight all our battles and bring us earthly wealth and power and victory?

On a similar note, we have a God who allows suffering, when surely He could be, should be ridding the world of evil and death. Can we bear the truth of a God who has set aside omnipotence to give us free will to choose destruction or creation? A God who has created a world that is dynamic and thus mortal, in which things decay, in which things die. Can we understand a God like that, who reflects the powerlessness that every parent feels when their child suffers, when their child fails, and (God forbid, although God sometimes refuses to forbid) when their child dies?

          What can you not bear about God? God as Creator seems like an easy one. But we look at creation and see that it is both a model of the interdependence of life, and a system of survival of the fittest. So what does THAT tell us about the nature of God? Can we accept a God who forces us to face into paradox? Into a reality larger and more complicated than we can truly make sense of?

          Turning to God the Son, we find a messiah who broke bread with rich and poor; who risked his own status and even performed miracles in order to bring out-casts back into community. Who embodied a life in which high and low were both redeemed, but in different ways. Can we step up to a God like that? One who claims that the powerful might need to be saved from their privilege? Saved from levels of wealth and security that are held at the expense of another? Saved, though, into a world in which the dream of God is more clearly visible, into a world in which more of God’s children have sustenance and freedom and opportunity? Can we bear that?

          Perhaps we can, if we remember that God also contains the dynamism of the Spirit. God is presence and power, giving us words we did not think we possessed, courage we couldn’t have dared, and visions of God’s glorious reality that break through our every-day understandings and change everything. God is a God who can enable us to bear the whole range of God’s being. Who can not only bring us to new places but make us long to be there, celebrate being there, willing to bear unimaginable cost and sacrifice to get there!

          What is it that you cannot bear about God? In what ways do you shrink God down into something more understandable or desirable to you? What aspects of the Divine do you shy away from? They are calling you. And God’s gift to you, this Trinity Sunday, is the invitation to turn towards them, and discover where they might lead you if you are willing to go deeper into the mystery. May it be so. Amen.



[i] Karoline Lewis, “Sermon Brainwave” podcast #667 – Holy Trinity, June 8, 2019

Clare Hickman