Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.
A central part of the Sanctus we sing on most Sundays is that 5-word phrase of acclamation to our great “God of Power and Might.” During most services, I say or sing it with great zest, acknowledging this higher Power above all powers, so much mightier than even my silly stubbornness.
There are some days though, where this acknowledgment leaves me not just a bit uneasy, but resentful.
After all, if God is so all-fired powerful and mighty, how is it that this Good Lord will so often “choose to refuse” using that Power and Might to bring about a little more healing in this world of suffering and hurt, both of individuals, and of nations?
This nagging question first whacked me over the head in law school, courtesy of a movie that’s been rocking my spiritual boat for all the decades since.
In the 1984 Oscar-winning movie Amadeus, the popular and favored composer of 18th Century Austria was Antonio Salieri, not Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Salieri was the one invited to all the best dinners and parties. His operas had the biggest crowds. He was regularly given lavish praise and high recognition, and clearly was the “top dog” in the Emperor’s royal court of musicians.
This popular and likable Italian was grateful for such favor, and regularly and earnestly thanked God for his position. He prayed fervently and often for even more good compositions to come from his hands to praise God (and yes, to earn praise for himself too).
The young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, on the other hand, was a sniveling immature brat who had undeniable and clear musical ability, but partied too much and regularly offended folks. He was best known mainly for various “little trained monkey” tricks, begun as a small child while touring Europe with his over-bearing father. His musical compositions, to most of the Vienna in-crowd, was secondary to his ability to play the harpsichord blindfolded while hanging upside down.
And yet…Salieri was not “most folks.”
The cruel irony of Amadeus, both Peter Shaffer’s movie screenplay and his 1979 play, was that Salieri was “blessed” by God with just enough talent to know that — compared to Mozart — he had no talent at all. Salieri was the one person in all of Vienna who understood that it was MOZART’s music, not his, that was the voice of God.
The most important character of Amadeus, the title character, was never seen on screen or the stage. But it was this “Loving God” working behind the scenes who had chosen THIS human — this babbling and ill-mannered flake — to be the vessel through whom the most timeless music would flow.
Not only was Salieri perplexed by God’s strange selection, he was mocked by it. For less sophisticated ears, the rich complexity of Mozart’s brilliance was lost, but for Salieri, young Mozart’s work was evidence of heaven. And Salieri was in hell for it.
I am Salieri.
And, I think, most honest Christians on most days are as well. We sing praises to our “God of Power and Might” exclaiming that “Heaven and Earth are full of Your glory.” But at times those words come from my lips less with awe and praise than with bitterness and confusion and contempt.
When the job offer goes to someone else, or the diagnosis comes back even worse than first feared, or a dear love is taken away, God’s “power” can seem either wholly impotent, or worse, cruelly apathetic. God’s choice to refrain from using “Power and Might” to change a clear injustice is something we can neither understand nor accept.
These are times when I have felt that my trusting God seems woefully misplaced; futile, if not downright stupid.
And we all know of folks on the opposite end from Mozart, creatures of the Divine who have been saddled often from birth with pitiful yokes of physical, mental and emotional handicaps. Why indeed does our great God endow some of his children with extraordinary gifts some of the time, while sadly shortchanging others so often? How can we reconcile such knowledge with a faith in a Loving Creator?
We Salieri’s of this world must decide for ourselves whether this world’s unfairnesses are indications of divine mockery or Divine Love. Is it enough to answer that we may learn to love more fully through the presence of the suffering and incompleteness of others?
Even when — maybe especially when — I do not understand God’s choices, I am nonetheless forced to conclude that while there is at times unspeakable evil and suffering in our lives, there is (Praise be to God, YES!! There IS!!!) inexplicable and undeserved Good as well. There IS mercy and forgiveness and healing and selfless sacrifice in this world, all bound by a mysterious and relentless Love, that seeks us out and refuses to let us go.
I believe our God is a god of power and might.
I believe our God is a good god full of Perfect Love.
I believe our God forgives me for my moments of rage and despair when I cannot reconcile those two things.