Recently, two of my friends surprised me by flying my twin sister out on my birthday weekend to celebrate. We are identical twins and during a phone conversation a few weeks earlier, I just had this feeling she might be coming… but I forgot about it. So, when she jumped out of the car I was thrilled, but “only sort of” surprised. And so, I said, “Oh! You’re here, too!” in delight. And my friends, while pleased that they had delivered the best gift a twin can get on her birthday, exclaimed disappointingly, “Oh … we were hoping you would cry!”
Anybody who’s ever planned a surprise anything for anybody would agree that it is all about the reaction. And, we live for reactions even from the youngest among us. We love to watch babies try new foods to see their faces react with surprise, delight or disgust. We love to re-tell jokes to the next person to compare how much they laugh with the last time it was told; in fact, the very motivation behind comedy and humor at its very root is trying to get another person to react with laughter. And when people don’t react as we think they should, we often suspect something is up. Police and detectives rely on reactions to give them their first inkling if someone is telling the truth or not in an interrogation. And, if we’re honest, we often picture how someone will react before we tell them the news; it can be for fun, or to help us with our delivery, or just out of habit.
We live for reactions. And in living for reactions, we live for the response of the other.
We often point to “lack of sight” as the supreme difficulty when it comes to faith in God. We can’t see God. Therefore, it is difficult to believe in God. But, I wonder if lack of reaction is part of it. If we could count on that negative reaction from God (use your imagination for what that would be – a timely lightning strike? infliction of pain? audible admonishment?), would it be any easier to believe? What if we knew when God was happy or sad or laughing? Would that make it easier? Often, we anticipate or imagine God’s reaction according to the reactions Jesus received: the dove coming down from heaven, the audible voice, the curtain torn in two. Or, we picture God smiling down on us or God being disappointed in us. It’s almost as if we have to picture God’s reactions to have a real relationship with our Creator.
But why? I think it goes back to the whole communal root of our theology. God, communal God, three-in-one, community Godself created us to be in community with God and with each other. It is not enough for us to read a great article, watch a funny video or hear a great joke – what makes it great is sharing it with others (even for introverts)! And that, I think, is what has made social media king: the ability to connect, share and witness reactions from one another. Why do you think we like emojis so much?
In reaction, there is acknowledgement. It has been said that the opposite of love is not hate but apathy or indifference. Hate acknowledges; apathy ignores. And, it is probably not all that different with God. When we imagine, know or infer that God is mad at us, we are still in relationship with God. But when we experience silence or no reaction from God, it gets really tough. And, this is so often where we go wrong because we look to fill that silence, space or lack of reaction with something or someone or anything else! And that is where we lose focus and idolatry creeps in.
And so, it is critical in those times of silence or seeming apathy from God to work hard to find God. Who in our life might be mirroring God’s reaction to us? What is God’s historical reaction that helps us imagine God’s present reaction? (Hint: Check out the Bible.) And lest we think we are the only ones who experience those times of seeming disconnection, remember those 400 years between the Old Testament and New that some have called the “silent years”? Did God react? We don’t know for sure, but they certainly had trouble realizing it.
I think the natural reaction to no reaction is to try to create one. This is why we often find children misbehaving, because attention for bad behavior is better than no attention. But, perhaps we should ask ourselves why we desire reactions so much and go from there. If we seek validation and affirmation, how are we validated outside of what others say or think? If we seek companionship, how can we cultivate friendship instead of one-time responses? And if we desire accountability, how can we humble ourselves to ask for this gift in our lives rather than acting out negatively for admonishment?
How do you experience God reacting to who you are and how you are living your life? How might you live differently if you anticipated God’s reaction to your actions and thoughts in the same way we anticipate the reactions of others?
JULIE RAFFETY serves as the pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Franklin, New Jersey. Julie is a violinist, aspiring writer, snowboarder, runner, identical twin and crazy about popcorn.