There are various reasons for my not having blogged for the past month...one is a big decision about where to go next with the embryology series, and a need to read some more before proceeding. Another is that my wife and I have been in San Francisco for the past week or so.
One reason for our trip was the duty to scatter my sister-in-law's ashes in the Pacific, as she had requested. She died two years ago, at age 52, of lung cancer, a few days after confessing her faith in the Lord Jesus, and the latter after over 30 years of faithful prayer by my wife. Susie loved the coast of the Monterey bay and peninsula, and especially loved the sea otters there. I found myself with 14 days off in a row, and we decided rather spur-of-the moment to fly west and do it.
Barb and I drove south from 'Frisco to a peninsula near Monterey and began to hike around looking for a good place to put the ashes into the sea. The vistas were gorgeous, with waves crashing on a rocky coast, twisted cypresses leaning against the wind, millions of nesting cormorants and other sea birds. We spent hours hiking the trails, looking for a spot that was private and had access to the water. Though it was unspoken, we both knew that Barb was also looking for sea otters. We knew that this area was a refuge for otters, and that, of course, there would therefore be otters around somewhere, or sometime, even if we didn't actually see one today. Still, Susie wanted otters…Barb wanted otters. We saw lots of seals hauled up on rocks or swimming around, but no otters. Finally, as the day waned, we had to just go somewhere and do it.
We had found one area of sandy beach that would do, though it wasn't, clearly, what we had in mind. We were thinking crashing waves with sea otters. There was one area we had not explored, and I had one of those odd, easy-for-a-scientist-like-me-to-dismiss-as-insignificant hunches that we should go there, and hike south, and if we didn't find "the spot", we would eventually end up at the beach which was at least acceptable. So that's what we did.
We parked and hiked out to the shore. There it was, the private rocky surf-carved place we were seeking. The surf was dramatic and a little scary, and the tide was coming in rapidly. We prayed, we cried, we thanked God for saving Susie at last, and committed her ashes to the sea.
As we rose to leave the rocks, I used the binoculars for one last scan of the kelp-fields. There, on his back smashing mussels on his belly, was a sea otter. Barb was delighted; this was the final touch, the personal touch of a God who cares about his children. I was moved again by the amazingly personal nature of God.
I realized that God frequently acts this way towards my wife. She prays, under her breath as it were, “It would be really nice if, on my fortieth birthday, God sent me a bluebird in the back yard. No big deal, but it would be nice.” And he does. “It would be really special if, when we scatter Susie’s ashes, there were sea otters.” And despite our efforts and hours of hiking in the “right” place, we cannot find a sea otter. Then, immediately after committing the ashes, there is a sea otter.
God does not act this way toward me, because I am not the same kind of person as my wife. I would not appreciate it, perhaps. I would write it off as coincidence, as silly, as beneath God’s attention. We do not relate in this way, God and I. But my wife has a collection of such personal touches in her life, the “insignificant” detail that was just the thing she was looking for as sign of God’s touch.
There is a recent movie whose identity escapes me, in which one character says to another, “It’s nothing personal.” And the other character wonders, “What does that mean? Everything is personal!” It is perhaps peculiarly (fallen) human to segregate events into personal and impersonal. Perhaps everything, literally, is personal. My relationship to my children is entirely personal; I regularly distinguish between them, love them differently according to their natures, and treat them differently according to their differing persons. In our home, we have always eschewed the concept of “fairness” as applied between parent and child among siblings. We do not pretend to treat all our children the same way; they are not the same persons. They have not grown up in the same home. One was an only child of parents in their mid twenties; one was a child with three older siblings and more experienced parents in their thirties. Everything is personal. In our home, the argument, “But you let so-and-so do it” carries almost no weight. You are not so-and-so, and my responsibility and relationship here is to you, not him. “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?”
Perhaps we act impersonally because our minds are too small to act entirely personally. We have generalizing laws because we cannot manage case-by-case justice, every case taken absolutely on its own terms. We revert to custom and convention because we cannot attain to the complexity of really considering every person and every situation as entirely distinct and different. But God, of course, can and does.
If God is entirely personal, and if persons are the most fundamental things in the creation (which I suspect they are), then we cannot expect God to behave entirely “consistently”, i.e., he will not always do the same thing in what appears to us to be the “same circumstances”. They are not, of course, the same circumstances. They are only the “same” in a general way, a generalization required by our limited intellects, but not required in fact. This may be why scientific analyses do not reveal God’s activity; His activity does not follow what we would recognize as “natural laws”, which are fully generalizable predications. It may be, however, that the laws we do recognize simply “emerge” from God’s personal activity toward each of the billions of persons in his creation insofar as each of those persons do require certain consistencies of context to interact with each other and with Him. But this is to enter upon another topic, as well as to travel pretty far out a speculative branch.
In summary, I am overwhelmed by the deeply personal manner in which God relates to each of us, by the contemplation of the size of the heart and mind of a Being capable of such individuated concern for each of us. The whole world is transformed into a more deeply beautiful and mysterious place by these thoughts