In working out what I’ve called here a storied or narrative theology, one invitation I issue repeatedly is to discover the identity of God through the things that God does.
When we talk about God in the classical Christian tradition, it is easy to fly off to heaven, to think deep thoughts about the Trinity, or articulate a list of attributes. But attributes alone don’t actually tell us very much (it would be amusing to do an internet search of all the contradictory claims made under the banner, “God is love”).
I prefer more of a Forrest Gump approach: “God is as God does.”
It seems I need to correct myself already. Flying off to heaven isn’t a bad thing, all told.
Psalm 113 is a song of praise, issuing its calls to celebrate God before claiming that this God, YHWH, will be praised across the whole face of the earth and for all time. In summoning people to join the song, it is inviting us to participate in the future toward which the world is heading.
The God whom the world is to praise is the God who reigns on high, whose glory is above the heavens (Ps 113:4).
But what is she doing there, this God of Israel?
The claim that a god, and our god in particular, is in charge of the cosmos can be, has been, and often still is a dangerous claim. It is a seductive claim, one that can lead us to the exercise of coercive or manipulative power on earth with the idea that the great and powerful God stands behind us.
That’s why the attributes should never be separated from the story.
This God who sits enthroned on high is the God who looks down to “raise the poor from the dust, “to lift the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes” (Ps 113:7-8).
This God who sits enthroned on high is the God who “gives the barren woman a home” (Ps 113:9).
How do we know the work of God when we see it? How do we know what it looks like to become like God in our engagements with the world God has made? How do we measure whether or not our actions are rightly signaling to the world the identity of the God in whose name we are acting in the world?
The God who reigns on high is seen in the stooping low to exalt the humble.
The God who reigns on high is seen in bypassing the mechanisms of power that are already in place and exalting the helpless to newness of life and flourishing.
This is the God whom the disciples could not bring themselves to follow. This is the God to whom Jesus entrusted himself.
This God is the one who gives life to the dead and calls into being the things that do not exist.
So where power is exploited, we can question whether this is the hand of God. Where advantage is gained through manipulation, we can doubt whether the hand of God is in play.
Where the instinct of self-preservation propels us forward, we always need to stop and ask, “Is this where I am being asked to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Jesus?”
The only reason to ask that question, the only reason to answer such a summons, is if there is a God who not only reigns on high but also raises the poor from the dust.
We can only follow a crucified messiah if there is a God who raises the dead.