The one who is high and lifted up,
who lives forever, whose name is holy, says:
I live on high, in holiness,
and also with the crushed and the lowly,
reviving the spirit of the lowly,
reviving the heart of those who have been crushed.
I know a lot of families and meal communities that have a simple way of sharing what’s happening in life. During a meal, each person has a chance to give both a “high” and a “low” for the day/week. What was good, and what was tough?
This little question has the potential to remind us during difficult days that there is also good to grasp. It also gives us perspective that life is full of all sorts of experiences and emotions, reminding us that there is value in identifying both extremes. And it can open our eyes to the way that God meets us in both. But most of the time, depending on the day, we prefer to dwell on only one extreme, and ignore the other.
As I reflected on a passage in Isaiah recently, I began thinking about the highs and lows of God’s presence. I’m not talking about the mountain top experiences with God contrasted with the feelings of absence; I’m referencing the unique way that God is both incredibly big, and profoundly small. And, like the highs and lows of each day, we have a tendency to dwell on one and ignore the other.
Some of us gravitate toward the highs of God. We prefer to think of God as conquering and victorious, above and outside of everything. God is way up there, and immense.
We want the lightning and the thunder (my children would immediately start singing thunder, thun-thun-thunder). We get less comfortable with the image of a God who suffers, who is patient and in the thick of it with his people. It’s hard to embrace the lowness of a God who walks day by day in the slow and painful journey of one with disability, and who sits with care among those living in extreme poverty. This can feel beneath a big God. We don’t prefer to think of God as “living with the lowly.”
Yet our story is that God enters quietly from backstage, in obscurity for 30 years, and then avoids the political and military power offered to him. Instead he chooses to transform the world through relationships and presence with everyday people.
Some of us do gravitate toward that low nature of God. What we struggle with is the high and holy element. This is the God who inspires awe and reverence, who speaks life into motion, and whose name is holy and removed from everything else in all of creation. This is the Jesus before whom people threw themselves on the ground. This is encapsulated in the overwhelming moment that Peter cries to Jesus, “go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” God is overwhelming and mysterious and beautiful and invokes a bit of fright in both the Old and New Testament when glory is revealed (through Jesus, angels, and the prophets!). That seems too high and holy for us.
And yet we read, “I live on high, in holiness…. but also with the crushed.” God is not only Elohim (Creator God/Mighty One) but also Emmanuel (God with us).
This is such good news. It is precisely this high and low nature of God that can fill our spirit like nothing else. In the moments when we are crushed, we are filled with the hope that the one who suffers and walks with us is also the one who is above all. There is mystery, but such hope! And the one who is above all and goes beyond our limits of comprehension is also the one who enters into our mundane and disappointing moments. Nothing is too big or little for our God. If you’re drawn to one of the extremes, I encourage you also embrace the other, and take hope and delight that the loving, living God is beyond our categories.
St Patrick got it right in his prayer 1,600 years ago:
Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me….
Jesus, thank your for being above me and beyond me so that I can trust you in all things, yet low enough to walk with me and revive my broken heart.