Columnists > Voices

Stain treatment

Does God have purpose in a Chicago underpass image?

Issue: "Memorial Day 2005," May 28, 2005

Some things that I chickened out on in my life I don't regret. I don't regret not "streaking" across campus on a dare in 1971. (Gen-Xers, you can look it up in history books.) Other things I wish I'd gone through with, and the omission of them leaves the taste of missed opportunity-people I should have stood up for, people I should have stood up to. People fear was always a big motivator.

I don't think I would regret, down the line, being Victor Gonzalez. He's the Chicago native who on May 5 smeared the words "Big Lie" in shoe polish over the salt stain apparition of the Virgin Mary on the Fullerton underpass of the Kennedy Expressway. The site had become a mecca for tourists toting flowers and candles. I think I would look back on the subsequent misdemeanor charge ("criminal damage to state-supported property") as the reasonable cost of doing business for God's kingdom. Do the crime and do the time, fair enough.

Phinehas was that other vigilante who took it upon himself to make shish kebab of a Jew and Midianite flaunting their immorality in plain view of the tents of Moses when "the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab" (Numbers 25:1). God's opinion is noted: "Phinehas . . . has turned back my wrath from the people of Israel, in that he was jealous with my jealousy among them. . . ." Gideon, scared to act in broad daylight, took ten men by night and pulled down his own father's altar and Asherah pole (Judges 6), incurring the townfolks' ire. "Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God. He took away . . . the high places and broke down the pillars and cut down the Asherim. . . ." (2 Chronicles 14:2,3).

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Chicago is not Israel, of course. "Herem warfare" passed with the theocracy. What then does it mean to "remove the high places" today, I wonder?

Perhaps I am particularly piqued with the Lady of the Underpass story because I myself as a youth looked long at stains and cloud shapes and smoke rings to eke some word from God, being spiritually malnourished in a tradition that discouraged the reading of the Bible. "'Behold, the days are coming,' declares the Lord God, 'when I will send a famine on the land-not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it'" (Amos 8:11,12). Seems they still run to and fro.

Now about the Word of God, don't count me among those who say God didn't stamp the saline blotch on the Illinois Department of Transportation infrastructure, didn't create the rain that created the runoff that created a plausible facsimile of a praying hands Madonna-as if His Providence were not over all! I say God is involved in the stain. I say the stain is there by His decree as surely as the sparrow falling to the ground (Matthew 10:29) and the hair falling from your head (Matthew 10:30) are his doing.

But why did He put the stain there? Ah, there's the interesting question. How do we know the meaning or interpretation of anything in our experience? Say I get stung by a bee on my way to the mall on Sunday. Does it mean God does not approve of frequenting malls on the Sabbath? Maybe. But the bee doesn't tell me that. What the feisty insect does is get my attention, so that, arrested by this zap of "general revelation" I stop to ponder "special revelation"-what the Bible says about keeping God's day holy.

What is the meaning of the stain on the underpass? Is it not an active winnowing of idolaters from true believers in the living God? Are they not mistaken who look for speech in petroleum smears when the gospel sings clean and clear in His Word? Why am I ever "ashamed of the gospel" when these are not ashamed of their Monty Python circus? "Truly the hills are a delusion," says the Lord (Jeremiah 3:23). "Big lie," says Victor Gonzalez. Right on, modern Phinehas. Wish I had your guts.

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.


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