Way back when Dick Tracy was a feature in the daily comics and a popular detective serial on the radio, the term M.O. could be explained to you by any school boy. He probably couldn’t tell you that it was from the Latin modus operandi, but he knew that it was the ‘mode of operation’ by which the clever detective could confidently recognize the handiwork of a specific criminal: “Notice how a four of diamonds was left at the scene – that’s the M.O. of our boy ‘Four Eyes.’” According to those old detective serials, it seemed that every bad guy had his own distinctive M.O. that marked his crimes.
Well, though that particular cliché of old-time crime dramas seems to have gone out of style, the idea of a modus operandi still has merit – individuals (and organizations) do have habitual behaviors which leave a ‘trail of evidence’ from which we can learn. And that’s also true of God!
Of course, when we’re talking about God’s M.O. we’re not talking about a crime scene, but rather the distinctive patterns we see in His handiwork. And since that handiwork is the cosmos and everything good in it, that’s a great deal of evidence to consider! To take but one example, when we find inexplicable beauty at every scale of nature we can only conclude that “beauty is the handwriting of God” (in the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson) and we grasp something important about His nature. Similarly, when we taste transcendent love and joy in the unity of close human relationships, we discern a glimmer of truth about the One in whose Triune image we were created. God’s M.O. is ‘writ large’ in His creation for those who will see it!
But nowhere is God’s M.O. more clearly on display than in the pages of Holy Scripture. In fact, it seems that a great deal of the Bible represents God’s efforts to make Himself known to us through the M.O. He has practiced in His interactions with humanity. And that’s why we Christians place such value in the entirety of scripture – not just the densely theological books (such as Paul’s Epistle to the Romans), but also the historical books (such as Chronicles, and Acts). In his commentary on the Old Testament, Martin Luther remarked that “The Bible is the cradle wherein Christ is laid.” What he meant is that all parts of scripture work together to tell us the incredible story of how God was born into our world to save us. And a good deal of that ‘cradle’ consists of historical accounts that demonstrate God’s M.O. of patiently working through his flawed and wayward people to accomplish His own ends – redemption won for all of fallen humanity.
When we look at God’s redemptive work we find many repeating themes (see God’s Rhymes). But one of the most distinctive elements of His M.O. is how He consistently uses people with less-than-heroic traits to accomplish heroic purposes. As just a few of the many examples consider that Abraham was a liar (Genesis 12), Jacob was a cheat (Genesis 27), Moses tried to beg off (Exodus 4), David was an adulterer and murderer (2 Samuel 11), the apostles were cowards (Mark 14;50), and Paul was a fanatical persecutor (Acts 8:3). Yet all were selected to perform a key role in God’s plan of salvation. Why does God work this way? We really don’t know, but it tells us a lot that God doesn’t despise human frailty but redeems it for His purposes. As someone put it: “God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called.”
When we contemplate God’s mighty acts, one of the distinctive marks is how God seems at times to go out of His way to perform them through ‘ordinary’ events and people. This is not the kind of deity who flings lightening bolts at His cowering subjects or orchestrates spectacular heavenly signs to impress us. God often speaks in a whisper (1 Kings 19:11-12). It’s a quite remarkable fact that the Ultimate Power of the cosmos operates with such subtlety that many can even deny His existence!
Almighty God inserted Himself into human history as a helpless infant and passed His time on earth in relative obscurity. Yet the impact of this brief ‘tragic’ life changed the course of cosmic history – both now and eternally. So it is entirely consistent with the Divine M.O. that proclaiming the Good News of salvation to all the world is entrusted to flawed and ordinary people that He empowers to do His will – people like you and me!