Most of the earthquakes I’ve experienced while here in Berkeley have happened at night and, although they jolt me awake to that state of unnatural attentiveness that’s not quite sure whether to run or hide, it’s hardly the best time for considered reflection.
But last night, seated at the dinner table, when the world bucked and swam I realised that my first feeling was betrayal. Betrayal and affront at the unfairness of it. Just about to tuck in to a good meal and here’s the earth itself disturbing me. Shouldn’t happen. Shouldn’t be.
And I realised that the same reaction is there even in the middle of the night—some chance of sleeping now! Some things just shouldn’t be. Even when the event itself is harmless I feel betrayed. The earth should sit still. Vertical should stay vertical. We have an eye for justness, for rightness, for the way of things.
Jotham’s got a good eye. Even setting aside his personal investment in the downfall of Abimelech he’s got a good point. One we should bear in mind as our political parties strut their stuff. The last person we should trust to rule us is the guy who wants to. Now Abimelech’s got a good argument too. Isn’t it better to be ruled by one person than by 70 squabbling brothers? But Jotham’s got affront on his side and the gut-knowledge that this is not the way things should be. And it gives him the courage to put words into God’s mouth in his propaganda poem we heard today. And the text goes on to say that God agreed with Jotham and Abimelech met an early downfall.
But what happens when the adversary is not a murderous politician but the living God? The day labourers of the gospel are pretty much at the bottom of the heap—lower than slaves—and eke a living—if they manage it at all—one day at a time. Relying on law and custom to see them through to the next day. So when some screwy landowner gets it into his head to play Mr. Generous it must seem like the end of the world. A real economic earthquake ready to smash what little security they have. This is not the way it should be. And to have God take the landowner’s part is a betrayal. It isn’t fair. But maybe the way the world is, isn’t fair either. Maybe God can see that better than we. They way we organise our labour, the way we let ourselves be governed, the way we treat the poor. Not fair. Maybe God feels betrayed. Feels affronted that so much good is squandered and, in the way things are, so much evil is acceptable. But what’s a deity to do about it? When earthquake, fire and flood are ruled out what does God have left to turn the tide? When God doesn’t get what God wants … just what can God do about it?
August 18th, 1999