The Hardest Question was an experiment in preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. All posting is finished, but the content will continue to live here in archive form. You can discover new content by former THQ curator Russell Rathbun at Question the Text.


Begging for God’s Presence

How long are we supposed to wait for God to show God’s face around here again?

by Russell Rathbun

Old Testament Reading: Isaiah 64:1-9

For Sunday, Nov. 27 , 2011: Year B—Advent 1

The Second Advent of the Christ as offered by this week’s reading in Mark seems distant and mysterious. It will happen on a grand and cosmic scale and until it does we asked to wait (patiently?). To watch for it, is to be ready—like it will really sneak up on us, given that it will be preceded by the stars falling form the sky and all sorts of other apocalyptic stuff.

In the Isaiah reading a different tact is taken: begging, pleading, crying.

God Come Down

The Lectionarieers assign this reading because of Mark’s midrash on the first verse of chapter 64. The heavens being torn open is the image used at Jesus’ baptism and at his death when the curtain of the temple is torn open. Mark uses this image from Isaiah to say that God indeed has come down out of the Heavens and out of the Holy of Holies to be with God’s people. Mark narrates the coming of the Spirit and the death (and by implication the resurrection) of Jesus as the answer to this prayer put down long ago.

Difference in Tone

Reading Isaiah alongside of Jesus’ prophecy of the coming of the Son of Man, I am struck by the differences in tone. The voice of the prophet seems so vulnerable and intimate, begging God to come down from heaven, begging God to show God’s face, trying to figure out why God is staying away. Is it us? Or is it you God?

From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him.

See, God we have been faithful and we know that you are too. We are waiting, and we know that we are totally sinful, but you were really angry with us and so we messed up. Please come back.

Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.

There is this sense that this pleading will work, like it has worked in the past. But we have come to presume that the God in the New Testament makes God’s decisions about coming and going, showing God’s face or not, on less emotional grounds.

The Hardest Question

What is the Son of Man waiting for? Maybe we should try the begging and pleading instead of simple vigilance.

How long are we supposed to wait for God to show God’s face around here again?

 Russell Rathbun is a preacher at House of Mercy in St. Paul, Minnesota, the author of Midrash on the Juanitos (Cathedral Hill Press, 2010) and the curator of The Hardest Question.


  1. Paul Sundberg says:

    It seems to me that the answer has preceeded the question…at least on the liturgical calendar. The Christ the King gospel text from Matthew 25 would suggest that there’s no more waiting to be done…only to engage the least/the hurting/the other…God shows up everywhere, all the time.

  2. Mike Hogg says:

    Good stuff Russell…, connected thru, which is a useful site, but I rarely find contemporary reflections very interesting. I’ll keep an eye on your blog and try to interact.

    I read your closing comments and question to my wife, who promptly responded, “yea, I can relate to that!” ;-)

    The answer to your question for me is; “as long as it takes me to humble myself”. I’m thinnking ‘waiting’ signifies dependence on another for something…, thus the need to acknowledge our shortfall.., which is where the problem most likely lies?!!?

How do you read?