Inklings of Truth


God Unemployed

By Audrey Stallsmith

When Time’s cover story once asked whether God was dead, Walt Kelly inked the following response into his Pogo comic strip:  “God is not dead.  He is merely unemployed.”  I suspect Kelly meant the same thing Chesterton did, when the latter wrote in What’s Wrong with the World that “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.”

So, although Kelly probably didn’t mean for “unemployed” to be taken literally, it occurs to me that Jesus--to the world--would have appeared unemployed for the last several years of his life. He had left the paying job of carpenter, after all, to become an itinerant preacher who had to rely on the contributions of his hearers. 

That probably didn’t work out well if Judas was stealing from the offerings!  And Jesus had so many demands on him that he frequently didn’t have time to eat even when the food was available.

His mother and brothers, in fact, attempted to stage an intervention of sorts.  “When his family heard what was happening, they tried to take him away. ‘He's out of his mind,’ they said.” (Mark 3:21 NLB) 

It seems likely that Joseph had died by this time, since he isn’t mentioned.  Whether Jesus’ brothers were full brothers or half-brothers from a previous marriage of Joseph’s remains a mystery.  If Christ was Mary’s oldest son or her only son, he probably had been supporting his mother before he began his ministry, and perhaps she felt abandoned.  His siblings no doubt resented the fact that her care now fell on their shoulders.

There must have been some reason that Jesus--when dying--left Mary with one of his disciples rather than one of his brothers.  Perhaps that points to a lasting schism between him and the rest of the family over what they considered his unreasonable insistence on continuing his ragtag ministry, assisted only by a bunch of fishermen and other hangers-on who also had abandoned their rightful jobs.

It just wasn’t respectable.  In fact, if you think about it, Jesus acted more like the hippies who dropped out or the rat race in the 60s than he did like the upright church folks who couldn’t stand those hippies.

Actually, Jesus had it worse than we do, since we at least can’t see the additional trials waiting for us around the bend.  He knew that the adulation of the crowd wouldn’t last, that many of his followers had mercenary motives and would fall away when the going got tough, that things would turn very ugly before they got better. 

Granted, he also could see the reason behind it all, which we often can’t, but that wouldn’t have made the actual circumstance of almost everyone abandoning him much easier to bear.  That betrayal may have hurt more than the nails did. 

In the eyes of the world, he looked like a failure, executed in the most humiliating way possible and having no possessions left to his name except the robe for which the soldiers diced.  If his siblings were in the crowd, they well might have said, “We warned him that something like this would happen.” 

Since the New Testament describes two of its authors--James and Jude--as being brothers of Jesus, however, it seems likely that at least a couple of his siblings changed their minds about him.  That could be due to the fact that Christ, after his resurrection, appeared to James (I Corinthians 15:7)-- which must have been pretty convincing! 

The crucifixion should teach us all not to judge success or failure in the same way that the world does.  Part of the reason Chesterton said that the Christian ideal has been left untried must be that even we Christians tend to “think about ourselves in terms of our contribution to life,” as Henri Nouwen put it in Out of Solitude.  “We become our successes.”  Or, obviously, our lack of successes. 

In Reaching for the Invisible God, Philip Yancey notes that nuns “are working for God. . .God alone determines their worth and measures their success.”  The same should apply to us other Christians as well.

Nouwen reminds us that “we are not what we can conquer, but what is given to us. . .our worth is not the same as our usefulness.”  Like our earthly parents, God loves us, not because we are useful to him, but because we are his children.

I can understand what Nouwen means when he asserts that we only can live creatively “when we live. . .detached from the results of our work.”  I don’t write well when I am writing to be successful, because my work becomes self-conscious. 

The same applies to any of our Christian efforts, whether they are those usually considered creative or not.  We must learn to concentrate on what we are doing rather than on how it all is going to turn out.  We must stop obsessing about results which we may never see--at least not in this world--and leave all of that in God’s hands.