Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A God of Small Things

So I'm finally reading Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller's collection of "Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality." The subtitle was enough to keep me away from it for years, but that's just me being prickly about buzz words. Heck, he probably didn't even come up with the subtitle; the acquisitions editor probably did. I actually don't have any major beefs with it so far (though I will have to re-read Derek Radney's critique of it and Beau Pihlaja's defense, both published in The Graduate Scrawl last year).

One of the minor, throw-away lines in the book poked an old sore spot, though. In the chapter titled "gods: Our Tiny Invisible Friends," he talks about a Trendy Writer who claimed that "the Islamic version of the Holy Spirit" shows him how to love his wife, manage his money, and leads him to the best fishing spots.

(As a side comment, I can't find any reference on the Internet to this "Islamic Holy Spirit," called Khwaja Khandir, outside of Miller's book. Since everything worth knowing is on the Internet, I therefore conclude that he or the Trendy Writer have made it all up.)

Miller finds the idea that Khwaja Khandir would care about Trendy Writer catching fish absurd. He even thinks it's morally wrong for Trendy Writer to think this, what with all the other problems in the world that Khwaja Khandir has to focus on: wars, economic crises, famines.

This kind of reductio ad absurdum gets deployed every now and then to shame people who see God's hand everywhere. People who thank God for getting a good parking spot (cited by Rob Bell); people who credit God with upgrading them to first class (from Slate's take on Joel Osteen, see page two). I usually laugh along with those who make fun of such people, but then I have to stop and think about what I find absurd about it. Is God so focused on wars and famines that Joel Osteen waiting to be seated on a plane escapes his attention? I have to say no: nothing escapes his notice.
But surely God doesn't care about little things, when he has big things to worry about. Again, I have to say no: God isn't impressed with the size of things. If he were, he wouldn't have paid any attention to Noah, one righteous man in a world of unrighteous people. He wouldn't have paid any attention to Israel, an uncultured, powerless group of slaves. He is a God of big things, to be sure, but that doesn't stop him from being a God of small things as well.

The danger in thinking that God is too busy to care about small things is that it's indistinguishable from thinking that he's too busy to object to our small sins. God can't care about my angry thoughts; they're nothing compared to genocide. God can't care what I do to this person, he's a jerk, less than nothing. I was going to make links for all of these scriptural allusions, but just read Matthew 6. If God didn't care what I did with my small amount of money, he wouldn't have told me what to do with it. If God didn't care about what I eat today, he wouldn't have told me to pray for it. If God was too busy to provide me with every minor blessing, then I don't owe him any thanks for them.

So what's wrong with seeing God telling somebody where the fish are? It's not like he never did it before. This story's even better. Imagine the eyerolls if a television preacher told this story about his own life.


Anonymous said...

i agree with your saying God cares about the little things too, otherwise he wouldnt be God, or at least not the Judeo-Christian one which is unlimited.
but i think you must be careful when you say God speaks or shows you things and who you reveal that to and your motives for doing so. Otherwise it's like kissing and telling, it makes it cheap and you start whoring out your relationship with God. i think perhaps this is what Miller is opposed to as well. i'm not sure but i am. lol

Anonymous said...

I also tried to look up this 'Khwaja Khandir' on the net and come up with practically nothing. Although I put into the search engine at Reference.com, which asked me if I meant 'Khwaja Khandir'... When you click on the link it comes up with Al-Khidr here is the link:

I haven't had a chance to read through it yet, but it may have some interesting info there. :)

The Shema said...


In India, the Prophet, Saint, or Deity known as Khwaja Khizr (Khadir), Pir Badar, or Raja Kidar, is the object of a still surviving popular cult, common to Muslims and Hindus. His principal shrine is on the Indus near Bakhar, where he is worshipped by devotees of both persuasions; the cult is however hardly less widely diffused in Bihar and Bengal. In the Hindu cult, the Khwaja is worshipped with lights and by feeding Brahmans at a well, and alike in Hindu and Muslim practice, by setting afloat in a pond or river a little boat which bears a lighted lamp. Iconographically Khwaja Khizr is represented as an aged man, having the aspect of a faqir, clothed entirely in green[1] and moving in the waters with a ‘fish’ as his vehicle.