Advent Theme: Vulnerability
I am presently reading Where the Red Fern Growsout loud to my son. Since it has been years since I read the book, I had no memory of the theological thread through the book. God plays an influential non-speaking role in the story. The first appearance thereof is when Billy remembers a lesson he learned from his mother’s Bible reading to the family: “God helps those who help themselves.” My son’s own mother (me) had to pause to point out that the Bible doesn’t actually say that.
Many people want to spend time and energy proving the thesis that God helps those who help themselves. I’m never sure what that’s a point to prove. Furthermore, there are plenty of people who do work hard, who live faithful lives, who invest toward helping others and who do not receive financial, physical, or mental reward. Matthew 5:45 notes that God makes the rain fall on the just and the unjust.
What does that have to do with this very odd juxtaposition of verses in the middle of Revelation? The angels and saints are praising God, saying that God’s kingdom shall be forever. There is storm from heaven, while on earth a pregnant woman is threatened by a dragon. The woman is swept away by God to the wilderness and the baby is safe as well.
One way to look at this imagery is that the pregnant woman represents the Christ followers. Bearing new life, they are vulnerable in the face of dragon that wishes to crush and devour them, snuffing out the new life and the growth it represents. God’s intervention in the metaphor indicates that John believes God will protect the groups of believers, perhaps even removing them to a safer place.
Please note, though, that the believers cannot save themselves. The remove to safety, the sheltering, the protection- it comes from God at the Divine will. If the believers fight back against Rome- perhaps with swords- they will likely die. If they run away to hide, they may not be in a safe place or able to sustain themselves. They are to continue the work that John mentioned in their specific addresses, earlier in the book, and wait with attention for God’s guidance.
Potential Takeaway: God cares for sparrows, ants, platypuses, and giant squids. God’s compassion isn’t waiting for the most assertive to gain access through the right combo of words and actions. It is present to all, poured out, actively on-going because that is God’s own nature. The next time you’re thinking, “God helps those who help themselves”- consider that might be a sign to slow down, reflect, and look for clarity and spiritual guidance.
Merciful God, Your generosity knows no bounds. Your kindness lasts from generation to generation. Your divine help is called grace- unearned, unbidden, and poured out for all. Guide me into a deeper trust of Your provision and care. Amen.