Managing a saltwater aquarium, I discovered, is no easy task. I had to run a portable chemical laboratory to monitor nitrate levels and ammonia content. I pumped in vitamins and antibiotics and sulfa drugs and enzymes. I filtered the water through glass fibers and charcoal.
The play Amadeus tells of a composer in the 18th century seeking to understand the mind of God. The devout Antonio Salieri has the earnest desire, but not the aptitude, to create immortal music. It infuriates him that God has instead lavished the greatest of musical genius ever known on the impish Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
A friend once spent a day installing large stone steps in his backyard. When his 5-year-old daughter begged to help, he suggested she just sing to encourage him in his work. She said no. She wanted to help. Carefully, when it would not endanger her, he let her place her hands on the rocks as he moved them.
When asked by a lawyer to identify the most important rule in life, Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). In those words, Jesus summed up what God most desires from us.
The Roman paganism of Jesus’ day taught that the actions of gods in the heavens above affected the earth below. If Zeus got angry, thunderbolts shot out. “As above, so below,” went the ancient formula.
When Matteo Ricci went to China in the 16th century, he took samples of religious art to illustrate the Christian story for people who had never heard it. They readily accepted portraits of Mary holding the baby Jesus, but when he produced paintings of the crucifixion and tried to explain that the God-child had come to be executed, his audience reacted with revulsion and horror. They couldn’t worship a crucified God.
It made no sense for a widow to donate her last few coins to a corrupt institution in Jerusalem, where scribes who were dependent on those gifts “devour[ed] widows’ houses” (Mark 12:40). But in that woman’s act, Jesus saw a moving display of the proper attitude toward money (vv.41-44).
A prisoner who survived 14 years in a Cuban jail told how he kept his spirits up and his hope alive: “I had no window in my cell, and so I mentally constructed one on the door. I ‘saw’ in my mind a beautiful scene from the mountains, with water tumbling down a ravine over rocks. It became so real to me that I would visualize it without effort every time I looked at the cell door.”
When I consider Your heavens,” wrote the psalmist, “what is man that You are mindful of him?” (Ps. 8:3-4). The Old Testament circles around this question. Toiling in Egypt, the Hebrew slaves could hardly believe Moses’ assurances that God would concern Himself with them. The writer of Ecclesiastes phrased the question more cynically: Does anything matter?