Reflexive God

No matter where we live or when we were born, we are part of a generation of amateur fixers. There is at least one hardware or home improvement store in almost every community that insists that we can “do-it-yourself”. Even those who lack a certain manual dexterity or have little aptitude for repairs and renovations are somehow convinced by programs that showcase home remodeling that we should be able to tackle any project, large or small. We are assured  that if we just follow a few easy steps, the finished product will be perfect. To understand the flawed premise of “you can do anything yourself” marketing, one has only to stand in line at the return counter of any hardware store and look at the people with failure written all over their faces. Next to the register there is usually a discreet display of business cards for professionals with the skills to fix most any botched job.

The point is, generally in life we do not know what we do not know. Most of us have some idea of what we do know or think we know, but we convince ourselves that we can accomplish almost anything with enough effort and raw self-determination. Usually our downfall  is a sense of self-reliance. When we experience failures and setbacks, we learn the hard way that we simply cannot do everything in life by ourselves. We realize that we have neither the talent nor the gifts to master even a fraction of what we might envision without the help of others. Though this may seem entirely counterintuitive to those who are better managers than delegators, in fact it takes a village to overcome the challenges of everyday life. When we grieve the death of one we love, we learn that grief is not a stand-alone, “do-it-yourself” experience of quick fix self-repair. When we trust others enough to allow them to share in our grief, we open ourselves to receive the blessings of communal love and care.

Consider some of the ways we delegate power in our lives. If we vote in an election, we entrust our voice and civic will to those who pledge to represent us. Even when our personal opinion does not always concur with that of the majority and our preferred candidate does not prevail, good citizenship requires that we abide by the decisions made on our behalf by elected representatives. We transfer the individual power of “myself” to contribute to the greater good of our community, state, or nation.

Language is rich in reflexive pronouns that are easily mangled or misused both in spoken and written communication. Slang, social media, and online source of news and information perpetrate modern idioms of “selfness”. Real life teaches us that we are not sufficient unto ourselves, that our everyday lives are linked to others through the reflexive power of our collective being, “He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17 NRSV).

In Scripture, the reflexive is used to emphasize the presence of God in our lives, “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in all ways” (2 Thessalonians 3:16 NRSV). God is not a passive spectator who looks on as we struggle through life, but rather an active participant in our lives. God is present to us even when we make choices that allow us to experience the consequences of our own free will, “You shall know that I am the Lord your God” (Exodus 6:7 NRSV).

For those who grieve, the presence of God is affirmed in the assurance of the reflexive, "And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you" (1 Peter 5:10 NRSV). The most hopeful part is that God does not delegate the restoration of our soul, "...he restores my soul" (Psalm 23:2 NRSV). God does not assign the urgent needs of our heart and spirit to any surrogate other than the Holy Spirit, especially when we grieve. No other than God is personally at work in our life, "He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber" (Psalm 121:3 NRSV). Though God may use others as agents for our care, God does not rely on the ingenuity of people to mitigate our grief. God alone is at the core of every spiritual transaction of comfort and grace, "Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts" (Psalm 85:8 NRSV).

And though we do not know how long our grief will last, "a little while" is not forever. However long our grief lasts, God is continuously present to us through the reflexive power of God's own self, "You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fulness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore" (Acts 2:28 ESV).

And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. 

1 Peter 5:10 NRSV


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