Hot mustard sauce, the universe, and God’s love

By Curtis K. Shelburne: Religion columnist

 This column is not about hot mustard sauce; it just starts with it—the stuff you find in most Chinese restaurants.

I think it’s mislabeled. I know a little something about food and a little something about words, and I don’t think “hot” is the right word.  Jalapeño peppers are hot. Really spicy hot sauce, not the stuff you can drink like tomato juice, is hot.

But that mustard sauce, laced full of horseradish, isn’t just hot, it’s more on the order of “explosive.” And the really amazing thing about it is that it’s a delayed detonation sort of explosive. 

It’s not really “hot”; it’s more like “nuclear.” In the right amounts, I really like the kick.

But if you wander into a bit of fried rice or egg roll laced with just a tad too much of it, well, for a moment, everything seems fine. Then, slowly at first, that mustard begins to detonate until it feels like inside your head a forest fire with hundred-mile-per-hour winds has just vaporized your brain.

A nuclear mushroom cloud has just filled your mind, and every bit of DNA in every cell in your cranium has just been scorched to ash. All of your thoughts are suddenly focused and purified as with a refiner’s fire, just like all of your sinuses because no matter what method of final disposal you prefer for the rest of your body, your head has just been effectively cremated.

I wandered across some words this week that worked in my mind a little like that mustard sauce.

In his book, “Disappointment With God,” Philip Yancey shares this quote from Annie Dillard: “You do not have to sit outside in the dark. If, however, you want to look at the stars, you will find that darkness is required. The stars neither require nor demand it.”

Take a bite of that. At first taste, you think, “Fine, that’s true.”  Then it begins to detonate and the mushroom cloud of truth grows, and you think, “Wow, that is SO true.”

I know nothing about the context of Dillard’s words, but Philip Yancey was writing a truly fine book about what happens when we’re “disappointed with God.”

We’re disappointed with God because of suffering or tragedy. We’re dealing with pain. We’re experiencing depression. We’re down and almost out. Maybe we haven’t gone completely down the road to despair, but you can surely see it from where we are. And I hear Dillard and Yancey reminding us that stars appear in the sky not in the daytime but in the darkness.

Thank God indeed, we don’t have to spend all of our time in dark and difficult days. But when we’re walking through dark times, it’s good to remember the lesson of the stars. God’s love is there for us always, but some of the deepest and most beautiful facets of his love are only visible to our human eyes in times of darkness.