I sometimes fear the younger generation
will be deprived
of the pleasures of hoeing;
there is no knowing
how many souls have been formed by this
“Hoeing” by John Updike
I suspect many adult Americans are functionally agnostic when it comes to acts of God. An agnostic, remember, is not an atheist. An atheist says, “no.” An agnostic is someone who does not know, who is undecided, and not compelled to embrace a decision.
I also suspect that many people of faith are hard pressed to emphatically declare a single act of God in the world. I don’t say that as a criticism because there is humility and wisdom that comes with knowing we do not fathom the mind and will of God. In fact, it should be perfectly acceptable to say we don’t know exactly how and where God acts because the core substance of faith includes patience, trust, and humility.
According to the prophet Jesus, God is like the Cosmos upon which is nestled countless spinning orbs, far-flung fiery asteroids, and clusters of life in untold trillions – and all of it with its origins in the teeniest tiniest speck of a molecule (mustard seed parable). In other words, our perspective is too narrow, and the seeds of divine activity too infinitesimal, for us to have a fix on holy activity until it is a faint image in our rearview mirror.
Even so, modern religious talk is full of boasts about what God has done, threats about what God is going to do, and gilded promises about rewards God is going to provide. We hear it with every natural disaster and every cruel human act of mass violence. When people talk about what God is doing and why, I wonder where their patience, trust, and humility went?
I figure that God goes on doing whatever it is God does and, in the meantime, it is our job to hoe.
When we hoe, we don’t get to see the results as we work. In the short term, while we are hoeing, there is nothing to suggest that all our work means anything or will produce anything. The promise of food is far into the future and we cannot see it. We don’t get to know how our hoeing will turn out ahead of time. We just have to hoe one clot of dirt at a time, and keep doing it even though we do not know for certain if anything will come of it.
What we do know, as we break the earth open and our back is burning and our hamstrings are tightening, and red pustules are forming on the web between our thumb and first finger, is that nothing, absolutely nothing, will come of inaction.
As a person of faith, it is not difficult for me to believe that whatever actions God has sewn into the lining of our history, it is ripening all around us. The more difficult act of trust, is in the efficacy of my own hoeing – mine and yours. But then, such is the nature of hoeing and life – we often do not even get to see the results or full effect of our own actions, let alone God’s.