Good or bad. Pretty or ugly. Enemy or ally. Sinful or holly. Healthy or unhealthy.
Categories, juxtapositions, contradictions, polarizations. The more we live, the more we probably understand, that things are not black and white, and that life is complex and messy most of the time. When it comes to faith, the need for us to categorize, make sense, avoid confusion and ambiguity, seems big. It’s like an ancient push we all feel. It must make sense, it must be clear if it’s true. There is truth and there is only one. Really?
There is a story in the Old Testament about Joshua, which coincidentally is registered in the book of “Joshua” (unbelievable isn’t it?). Joshua is the leader and general of the Israelites, Moses is gone and he is taking his nation to conquer the promised land, the land of blessings that God had promised. When he “was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in from of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, Are you for us or for our enemies? Neither, he replied, but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come”. (Joshua 5:13, 14) Joshua then fells down to the ground in reverence and asks what was the message that God had for him. “The commander of the Lord’s army replied, ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is Holy’(Joshua 5:15).
This story is phenomenal. Joshua is the commander of Israel. He is used to thinking in categories and ranks. And when he asks for them, God doesn’t get into the issue. When we ask for categories God sometimes responds, “Neither” or with the Hebrew, ‘No’. Maybe because, sometimes reality does not fit into categories, clean and cut categories. However what God wanted Joshua to know is that he is stepping on holy ground and he did not know it. While we are debating who is against or for us, we forget that life is sacred. That life is holly. And in the presence of God what matters is that everything that surrounds us is holly and we did not realize it, trying to make everything fit in our categories we forgot the holiness of life itself.
Maybe, in the midst of mysteries, we don’t need to make sense or to find the explanation, because a “mystery is not the absence of meaning is the presence of much more meaning than I can comprehend” (Eugene Peterson).
Joshua was stepping on holy ground and he was very worried about categories. Maybe, when we don’t know the answer and things don’t make sense, we can follow God’s advice and take off our sandals and worship. Worship is accepting the mystery and not trying to make it fit in our categories, that, by the way, are very limited.