The story world painted in the first chapter of the book of Job speaks of Satan showing up at God’s house for a visit. Details are not provided, but we get the idea that Lucifer did not bring flowers.
It didn’t take long before the Prince of Darkness started to condemn Job, one of God’s servants. Reading this story the other day, I was thinking of another way we might imagine the Evil One visiting our heavenly Father—but this visit wound up on the cutting room floor when the final version of the Bible was edited. You may remember comedian Bob Newhart, who often set up hilarious scenes he imagined happening with the phrase “it might have gone something like this.” I’m thinking that Satan visited God one day and the discussion went something like this:
Satan: “You know, you talk a good fight, but I don’t see how you could really love the men and women you have created. Why don’t you put up or shut up?”
God: “What exactly do you have in mind?
Pulling out a deck of cards The Adversary gets down to business: “Let’s talk about it over a hand of poker. We’ll put all our chips on the table—winner takes all.”
God: “You really don’t want to play with me!”
Never known for humility, Beelzebub blustered: “Let’s get it on. Do you mind if I deal?”
God: “Deal whenever you want—I AM ready."
Talking trash, Satan begins to deal the cards. God hasn’t even picked his hand off the table before the fast-talking Devil boasts: “When push comes to shove, you will never gamble all that you are and all that you have on those sorry little people on earth who are such miserable wretches. I am going to force you to admit that your so-called love for them has its limits.”
With steely-eyed resolve, looking like Clint Eastwood facing down one of his adversaries, God calls Satan’s bluff by pushing all of his chips into the middle of the table without even taking a look at the cards he had been dealt.
“I’m all in. All I AM and all I have is on he table. No matter what I’m holding, no matter what you’re holding. No matter what cards are left in the deck. No matter what, I’m all in. I AM all in with the ones you call ‘sorry little people.’”
Satan was taken aback, and replied: “What do you mean you’re all in? How do you propose to prove your love for your creation?”
God: “I’m going to go and be one of them. I’m going to live with them just as they live. Wherever they are, and whatever challenges they face, I’m going to pursue them. I will do whatever it takes. My entire creation, you included Lucifer, will be left with absolutely no doubt about my love. What about you—are you all in?”
If he had learned anything, Satan had learned never to doubt God. He picked up his chips and started to walk away, and then he turned and sneered: “Surely you don’t think they’re going to love you back, do you? You don’t think your little story is going to wind up with everyone living happily ever after, do you? You know how hateful and violent those sorry people are—they’ll probably kill you.”
God: “No probably about it. I know them. I created them. I’m going down there, and I will kiss them and hug them and love them. Of course, in the end, they will do what humans do. In return for good, they will give me grief. They will hate me because of my unlimited love. They will kill me, but that’s part of my mission. My love is not based on their acceptance. I’m going anyway. I AM all in. I love them because that’s who I AM.”
Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881) masterfully conveys the loving pursuit of Jesus in The Brothers Karamazov. Dostoevsky describes the institutional church 1500 years after the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The institution had long since turned its back on the freedom and simplicity of Jesus, choosing instead to reject Jesus in favor of the survival of big business religion. Dostoevsky portrays a surprise visit by Jesus during the time of the religious inquisitions in Spain (lasting several centuries after first being established in 1478).
Dostoevsky pictures Jesus coming to the afflicted, abused—to Spaniards overwhelmed by institutionalized religion, just as he had come to the Jews in the first century.
“The Grand Inquisitor” is a tale within the novel about the rejection of Jesus by organized religion, whether the first-century religion of Judaism or of 16th-century religion posing as Christianity.
Dostoevsky says it went something like this: The day after a hundred heretics were burned alive by order of the Inquisition Jesus walked by the cathedral in Seville as a funeral procession with a little white coffin was leaving. The grief-stricken mother of the little girl who had just died appealed to Jesus and Jesus resurrected the little girl.
At that moment the Grand Inquisitor arrived on the scene, described by Dostoevsky:
“He is an old man, almost ninety, tall and erect, with a withered face and sunken eyes, in which there is still a gleam of light. He is not dressed in his gorgeous cardinal’s robes, as he was the day before, when he was burning the enemies of the
Roman church ... at this moment he is wearing his coarse, old, monk’s cassock.”
True to the knee-jerk response toward those who dare to challenge Christ-less religion, the Grand Inquisitor ordered Jesus to be thrown into prison for upsetting the religious status quo. Later, having seemingly recognized the actual identity of Jesus, the old man-Grand Inquisitor asks Jesus “Why have you come to disturb us?”
Ironically, 1500 years after Jesus, the established religion that did its business in Jesus’ name was so disturbed and threatened by Jesus’ presence that it responded by throwing him into prison.
Still standing outside Jesus’ prison cell the Grand Inquisitor audaciously reviled Jesus and then paused to give Jesus an opportunity to answer.
“He [Jesus] suddenly approached the old man in silence and kissed him on his bloodless aged lips. That was His answer.”
When all the implications of Jesus’ arrival are considered, Christ-less religion is still disturbed by Jesus Christ-less religion still denies and rejects the intimate embrace and kiss that Jesus offers. Many within modern Christendom trivialize, diminish and devalue the Incarnation, diminishing it to a birthday celebration and sugar-laced fantasyland. It has little to do with the endless love God offers to us in the midst of the desperately evil places in which we find ourselves. Sugarplum fairies and toy soldiers and gingerbread houses aside, the marvel of the Incarnation is that our Savior comes to us.
He is here and he is after us. Jesus is pursuing us. Rather than opting for the safety and security of a fantasyland castle, Jesus has come to live with and be one of us. It seems for many, Jesus is little more than a harmless plastic front-yard decoration made in China, purchased at Wal-Mart, stored in the attic for most of the year and exhumed and displayed for a few weeks in December.
But Jesus isn’t plastic, and he can’t be stored in your attic. Jesus is alive—he doesn’t fit into the plastic molds our culture shapes for him. The risen Lord is here and he’s pursuing us year round. He wants to be a part of our lives—he offers us an embrace and a kiss.
If we are to truly celebrate Jesus, we will surrender all our religion, bowing before him, from the cradle to cross and beyond. The good news is that while all the tinsel and ornaments are now boxed up and Christmas puddings and concerts have paused until next December, none of these add up to even one small fraction of the enormity and totality of who God is. No matter how wonderful our attempts might be to honor and revere him, the fact remains that the love of God is always greater than we are able to conceive or celebrate.
The message of the Incarnation is, in its totality, a mystery—it’s always far beyond the grasp of our abilities to earn or deserve it. The message of the Incarnation is in his kiss and in his embrace—and his never ending pursuit. He’s all in.