I was walking down a street in Pittsburgh next to a couple Batmobiles when a voice behind me said: “They’d have to pay attention to me if I showed up at my high school reunion in one of those!” I turned around and found myself looking straight in the face of Anne Hathaway, the actress who played Cat Woman in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. My initial reaction was to say “I don’t think you’d need those to be noticed,” but I couldn’t get the words out of my mouth. As is often the case in the presence of someone who is a prominent public figure, my tongue got tied and I failed to say anything.
The next day I was at Heinz Field standing 5 feet away from Christopher Nolan, the director of the film. There was a brief moment when he looked directly at me, or at least I thought he did. Once again, when offered the moment to speak up I found my tongue tied and was only able to paste a silent yet awkward smile on my face. Without missing a beat or changing his expression, he called to his Director of Photography and made some comments about the area behind me prior to filming the next scene where the Mayor of Gotham was to enter the stadium. Evidently, he was not looking at me but was looking behind me: I was invisible to his gaze.
I think most other people have had similar experiences to these, (other than the fact that mine were on the set of The Dark Knight Rises). In those situations, most of us shy away from initiating contact with the more popular and powerful people, but on the off chance we do, they rarely acknowledge us meaningfully, if at all. To them, we are part of the background which they don’t remember when they move on to life’s next adventure.
There is nothing wrong with this expectation other than our natural human tendency to extrapolate. We think if someone one or two stages above us will not give us the time of day, people four or five stages above us will treat us even more dismissively. But our thinking doesn’t stop there for we often carry it beyond rational limits and think it inconceivable that God, the creator of the universe, would care very much about us at all.
I don’t mean we actually say such a thing. We are adept at discussing how God loves us individually. We sing his praises and revel in the fact that he came to earth and became one of us. We take great pride in proclaiming how personal God is and that he became flesh and dwelt among us. But our thoughts are often very different.
We ask ourselves “Why would God care about me and my problems?” We prayers about our problems, but I wonder if we really expect him to listen. Maybe you do. Maybe I’m the only one with these doubts. Maybe I’m the only one who struggles with offering up my problems to him because it seems like he never listens anyway. Maybe I’m the only one who has woken up each day with the same undiminished problems I’ve been praying to God about for years. Maybe.
But when I read Psalm 99 I must realize that a distant uncaring God is not the God we actually serve. Yes, verses 1-5 and 9 speak of God’s awesome nature and how he is exalted above the earth. They speak of how his presence makes the earth quake and how we worship at his footstool. They speak of God being so different from us that our only response is to fall flat and grovel at his feet. But there are other verses in this psalm describing a God who speaks to his followers. They tell of Moses, Aaron, and Samuel and how when they spoke to God, God answered them. God offered conversation, not silence. God offered intimacy, not distance. God offered mercy, not condemnation. Certainly, he expects holy behavior and will avenge wrongdoing, but the point is that He spoke to them…He answered them.
This is such a basic truth that I think it is difficult to fully grasp. What I mean is, my life has led me to a point where God’s “otherness” and “holiness” has become so prominent that I often fail to see how he would be interested in me at all. I see the squalor in which I live (no matter how wealthy you are, this life is truly squalor when compared to God’s heavenly realm) and conclude there is no reason to believe he would condescend and concern himself with me. But I need to call this what it is: a lack of faith. Scripture, and in particular, this point in the progression of the psalms, tells of how God continually makes himself available to us. And not only available, he willingly initiates contact with us.
When I think back to my experience with Anne Hathaway and Christopher Nolan, I have a hard time imagining them going out of their way to have a meaningful conversation with me. But I must not extrapolate such thinking to God for it would go against everything scripture has to say. Scripture tells us of a God longing to know us. Longing to reveal himself to us. Longing to pour upon us his intimacy. But while this is cause for great rejoicing, it is also one of the most difficult tests of my faith. Do I truly believe God listens, as scripture tells us, or do I see him more like Anne Hathaway and Christopher Nolan: distant and concerned with other things?