Not that long ago, I didn’t know the word meme. Then, if I recall correctly, when I first encountered it, I didn’t know how to pronounce it or really what it was.

Times have changed.

Those simple, crazy internet postings. Funny. Snarky. Honest.

Whole genres or catalogs that grow. The screaming woman and the cat. “Brace yourself” with the guy from Game of Thrones. “I Don’t Always…” with the most interesting man in the world.

From Sassy Christian Anarchist Memes

Not surprisingly, there are a bunch of academic discussions about memes that predate our momentary bliss on social media. Interesting stuff like the connection between memes and mimesis (Rene Girard, anyone?). But also how memes imitate (get it?) evolutionary biology — replicating, adapting, mutating, competing, reacting to social pressure.

I don’t want to have a scholarly discussion of memes. I used to read books with long passages in Latin or German. Now I like memes. What can I say?

from Hauerwasian Memes for Pacifist Teens

Somehow I’ve become connected with some insightful, irreverent, and rather wonky/very niche-specific meme generators on Facebook. (Do you ever really know how you get connected with anything on the internet? OK, boomer!) I can’t exactly encourage you to check out “Pseudo-Damaris’ Mystical Memes for Areopagite Teens,” “Hauerwasian Memes For Pacifist Teens,” or “Sassy Christian Anarchist Memes” unless you’re ready to be confused, amused, and offended.

Poor Little Bunny

It was the meme above (on “Pseudo-Damaris’ Mystical Memes for Areopagite Teens”) that motivated this blog. I saw it and I loved it. I laughed. Yet I was also touched in a personal, dare I say a comforting way. Why?

First, it involves furry little creatures. I’m a sucker for such things. My family has been told, if ever I am hospitalized for a duration, in a great deal of pain, waiting to die, or senile, they are to play silly animal videos for me.

Yes, it appears that the larger animal — is it a fox? — has the other — a rabbit — in its jaws, presumably not in a benevolent manner. I’m not a biologist, but can we assume the rabbit will be killed and eaten? We hope in that order.

Philo-Sophie

I share the meme with my wife and interlocutor, the aptly-named Sophie.

“So you’re suggesting that God is cruel, bloodthirsty, and wants to kill us?”

“Not really. What about that Bonhoeffer quote ‘When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die’? Admittedly, there’s a difference between being called to follow, even unto death, versus being snatched and devoured. And who was it that talked about being pursued by the ‘hound of heaven’? Don’t forget that Aslan is good but not safe.”

“But isn’t there a lot of that ‘God’s will for you must always suck and be painful’ going on here? You always say you despise the notion that following Christ is invariably grim and cheerless, that the right choice is always the painful choice. Maybe that’s deeper in you than you know.”

“I hope not. Remember that old Calvinist canard about being willing to be damned for the greater glory of God? Then there’s Job’s words, ‘Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.’”

“Someone who’s never been slain should probably be cautious about saying that.”

Hmmmm. . .

I don’t think I see God as bad and bloodthirsty.

Years ago I recall reading James Gustafson’s Ethics from a Theocentric Perspective. He writes of God being a power that “bears down on us” (in an almost deistic way, I thought). I was put off by the idea. Ominous. Impersonal. I see a panini being pressed down, or the water (or is it whey?) being squeezed out of unfinished cheese. Decades later, I haven’t forgotten the image. Perhaps now I’m more intrigued or open to it, even if I haven’t fully embraced it.

I can’t shake this deep trust that God wants good for us all and has patient and mysterious means of getting us where we need to be. Even if it is disappointing and painful at the time — and even if we never are fully accepting or reconciled with where our life takes us — we get where we need to be.

Wow, isn’t that an incredibly individualistic and privileged thing to say? Could I say it to friends who have lost children, or the people I’ve met in Haiti, or the descendants of slaves who still endure relentless racism? I don’t want to be one of those who casually slaps the label “God’s will” on every terrible thing that happens to you.

I have written here before on one of my favorite/least favorite biblical passages — “When you grow old…you will be taken where you do not want to go.” (John 21:18) Maybe this meme is expressing the same thing. Back then I said

In some way, in some manner…to be a follower of Jesus is to be redirected, to be taken to places where you do not want to go. That sounds pretty bleak, pretty tough. And it should. There is no promise that by following Jesus your dreams will be fulfilled. Your dreams will be changed. And that is almost always painful and disappointing…This is solemn and scary news, yet strangely enough I have come to believe it is also good news.

But What About the Bunny?

The little rabbit in the meme is probably in shock, its heart racing, beyond struggling, near death. As much as I wish it were otherwise, even I can’t quite imagine the rabbit saying to itself, “No more must I skitter to and fro. No more racing about. At last I am free from all anxiety and fear.” And it’s way beyond sentimental to hope that the fox is bringing the rabbit home where they will dwell in cozy friendship — at least this side of the eschaton.

But I am okay being naively hopeful about God and God’s will for me. I may not be able to imagine rest and peace for the captive bunny, but I do find rest and peace, hope and trust, and yes, a little bit of fear, at the thought of being in the jaws of God.

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell and his wife, Sophie, are the pastors at the Second Reformed Church in Pella, Iowa. Steve has served on numerous Reformed Church commissions and task forces, and also edited the journal Perspectives for many years. Before coming to Iowa, he lived and served as a pastor in upstate New York. Sophie and he have two adult children. He holds a Ph.D. from Boston College in theological ethics.

5 Comments

  • Daniel J Meeter says:

    I like this, of course. Being carried in the jaws of God. I’m dying anyway. Better than the exhaustion of being chased by the Hound of Heaven. But I would say that’s a wolverine, not a fox. Did you ever see a fox? Not that I’ve ever seen a wolverine.

  • Thomas Goodhart says:

    Good post, Steve. Maybe there is something in the macabre aspect itself of the meme that is oddly comforting? Or humorous in response to the grim reality? Like laughing in the face of death? Which is also incredibly privileged, I get that… Some reason, reading this and especially seeing the fox and bunny meme, I thought back to the installation service of a Minister to her church that I participated in on Sunday and thought of the Declaration where she says, “Trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ for strength, I pledge my life…”

  • Debra K Rienstra says:

    “You hem me in, behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.” Ps 139: 5-6. I have always felt that the hand in question has some weight to it, some divine and sometimes unbearable weight.

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