I was in town last week, and spotted a man wearing a T-Shirt with a rather eye-catching phrase emblazoned across the front. It had the drawing of what was obviously the scowl of the Devil (in the typical fashion of a horned beast-like visage) in the middle part of the T-Shirt. On top of this was the phrase “God’s busy”, and on the bottom of it, the second part of the phrase was “Can I help you?”
Just on the level of words, or some other superficial level, there is some kind of humour involved there that might elicit a chuckle or two. But as all things are, if we can find the humour in it, it means that there is some relation, some connection to reality as we see it. That is what makes something funny. Like the old joke about what three priests did to chase away the pigeons that were making a mess of the parish grounds. They finally decided to baptize and confirm the pigeons because that would mean they would hardly come back again. If we find that funny (and it is on some level), it means that in reality, we do see this actually happening, where teenagers once confirmed hardly come back to church at all.
As I pondered further on the message of that T-Shirt, it became apparent that for many people, God is someone who is meant to be doing things all the time, and many people seem to find that they can hardly get God’s attention. God’s ‘job’ seems to be to be constantly running from person to person, making sure that his or her requests and wishes are met with efficiency – like some divine Concierge, so that he gets the love that he craves for. It’s like as if that was God’s job description.
But is that God’s principal task? The opposite seems to be the other common idea of God – that he is distant and uninvolved with our lives (that’s the Deist’s mis-understanding of God), and he is imaged like that great retired architect of the universe, who just stays in some corner after creation, and watches, from a distance, how we manage to get on till the end of time.
Truth be told, both extreme views are toxic, and leads us to a host of problems. The former will always make us God, and leave God becoming our slave and runner (or concierge). Our ‘job’ as human beings is then to “direct” God so that he knows what we need, and to get him to do our bidding through a series of holy transactions. If I fulfill X number of novenas, or if I don’t commit sin, or if I don’t miss Mass on Sundays, God will be happy, and grant what I want. And if he doesn’t, then, as the T-Shirt says, he’s probably busy with other peoples’ requests. (It seems that God cannot multi-task). And what’s worse is the suggestion that we seek the Devil’s assistance, which implies that the Devil has a greater ability and far greater resources than God.
The other extreme view is equally toxic - that God is almighty, God is creator, but he’s so far and distant from us. He’s hardly interested and is just waiting for it all to end. The incarnation, showing God’s deep interest in our well-being is totally ignored, and his stepping into our world concretely is totally rejected. God’s love has nothing at all to do with anything. People with this notion will be those who have no supreme pattern or blueprint of love (from God) to mirror, and would probably reject any suggestion that we should be loving beings, following the love of God that created us. They become the author of their own lives.
What most of us struggle with is the middle path between the two, where on the one hand, God is needy and simply hopes for our worship, obeisance and love, and the other, where God is disinterested and ambivalent towards us. Keeping that balance between the two extremes is thus the task of faith, where we allow God to unfold his divine plan in our lives in his time. It takes a lot of humility to be led (often in silence), and to not think that when he is silent, that he is busy, and to go to the Devil for help.
The problem is that if the Devil is only imaged in his most horrible, macabre and heinous form, we will outrightly reject him. But truth be told, he is also known as ‘the Deceiver’, ‘the Accuser’ and the ‘Father of Lies’. Every sin known to humankind is always seen as an attractive, sensible and justifiable option. That’s the way evil works, and that is the only way evil seems to operate. Evil will hardly present itself as a sinful, iniquitous and nefarious choice.
What a close walk with the Lord in prayer gives us is a deep inner sense to detect ‘what is’ from ‘what appears to be’. And we will then have eyes to differentiate between holiness and hatefulness, and between glorifying God and horrifying God.
Perhaps it’s not that God is too busy. We are. And most of the time, busy with the wrong things.