Everybody has heard the term “scapegoat” but most of us aren’t exactly sure what it means. My understanding is that the term refers to shifting blame. I looked it up this morning. Here is what dictionary.com has to say: Scapegoat: A person or group that is made to bear blame for others. According to the Old Testament, on the Day of Atonement, a priest would confess all the sins of the Israelites over the head of a goat and then drive it into the wilderness, symbolically bearing their sins away.
Okay, so I knew exactly what it meant. I thought I would gain some deep insight by looking up the definition. Nope. Same insight.
That is the bleat of a goat as opposed to the baaaaaaa of a sheep.
(My granddaddy Simpson had goats and sheep. Goat tails go up and sheep tails go down. Just saying.)
Symbolically we think sheep when we think of God. Lamb of God. Good shepherd. Lost sheep. Lion and lamb. Etc.
“Maaaaa,” says the still small voice in the wilderness.
The still small voice in the wilderness says, “maaa?”
Heresy is another word I looked up this morning. Google defines heresy as is a noun : a belief or opinion contrary to orthodox religious (especially Christian) doctrine.
An opinion profoundly at odds with what is generally accepted.
Synonyms: dissension, dissent, nonconformity, heterodoxy, unorthodoxy, apostasy, blasphemy, free thinking.
That is revealing. Americans pride themselves in being free thinkers. (Watching this election cycle play out, delude might be a more accurate word choice than pride!) Free thinking is a form of heresy! Oh, I what fun I would have had in my high school Sunday school class if I had only known!
Back to the scapegoat theme. A group of people for whom I care deeply has split into two factions. Both believe they heard/are hearing from God. What they are hearing is in direct opposition to the other. There are no innocent parties, well, God, but the rest of us are complicit.
Accrediting/blaming one’s actions on God makes God the scapegoat.
It makes God look bad. Really bad.
In the process God is exiled to the wilderness. Maaaaa!
What am I saying?
I am confessing charismatic tendencies. I am one of those people who hears from God. One of those people who have credited/blamed God for my actions. Prophetic is the term some use. Remember the old hymn, He Walks With Me in the Garden? Hymns often carried with them a different dogma than the sermons I grew up with in my Southern Baptist churches. Prophets, those who heard from God, were dead people from bible stories. All the answers are in the bible. No hearing from God for today. The bible was worshiped. (And yes, bible worship is a form of idolatry.) And yet, we sang powerful, charismatic songs. Some of us heard the hymns more clearly than we heard the sermons.
The point I am trying to make is that while the bible was and is very important to my life, God is not limited to a bestselling book.
God is represented in the bible,
but God is experienced through the body.
God is experienced in the heart, in the mind, in the soul, in a cool breeze, and in acts of kindness and mercy. God is experienced through the arts. (We watched “Warm Bodies” Saturday night and that movie preaches!)
When we are at our best God is experienced through humanity. The job of the church is to be Jesus with skin on. We, the church, regularly miss that mark.
God is not a genie trapped in a bible-shaped lamp waiting to be rubbed when we want a wish granted. (Here comes the rub.)
People, good people and bad people, credit (blame) God for their choices and actions.
Human beings have used scripture to control and manipulate ever since there was scripture. (Slavery and misogyny come quickly to mind.) As easy as it is to manipulate the written word, the prophetic word, the word heard through the heart is oh so much easier to manipulate. The personality and reputation of the speaker determines the potential benefit or damage.
What happens to one’s faith when you find out the sheep is a goat, but not just a goat, but a scapegoat?
How do you trust God when those who claim to speak for God are not acting godly? How do you pray when the experts are so obviously wrong?
How do you believe when a good word comes from a flawed mouthpiece?
If they are wrong, how can I trust myself to hear God?
No easy answers! My art has a prophetic edge. I believe in the mystery of redemption. As screwed up as life can be, I have hope. I have hope that there is something more than what I see. I have hope that the ugliness will be redeemed. I have hope that the confusion, the mistrust, the manipulation, the disappointment and the hurt is for a season. I have hope that God, the overseer of seasons, has a plan and that we are all part of that plan.
The voice I accredit to God tells me a lot of things.
“You don’t know what you don’t know.” (“That was fun to hear,” she said sarcastically.)
“Stand firm.” “Be free.” “Duh!” “Hope.”
Do you see that there is a LOT of wiggle room here? Room for interpreting how this is going to play out in my life and through my art. Room to be complicit. Room to set captives free.
How do you have faith in God when people beat you with the word of God?
I don’t know. I have no answer for you.
I only know what I do. I cry. I spew. I stay up late. I go outside. I walk. I get still. I read. I journal. I paint. I take a nap. It depends!
I tell myself that while I am flabbergasted, God is not surprised. God knew and God knows and God is okay with my befuddlement.
I don’t know what I don’t know, but God knows.
It is not a particularly satisfying conclusion.
I paint hope. I also LOSE hope on a regular basis. Somehow it seems to come back around. Hope doesn’t hold a grudge when neglected and neither does God.
For those who are estranged from hope, I will hope for you in this season. Maybe in the next season you will hold hope for me.