God is a Lover
What is God like?
The question sounds simple enough, but the ways in which we explicitly and, more often, implicitly answer this question in our daily lives has profound effects upon nearly all that we are and all that we do. In many ways it is the question. And anyone who has spent even a small amount of time in churchy circles (and beyond) will know that there a truly bewildering array of toxic conceptions of God that people daily walk around with in their heads.
- God as a punitive, implacable father, hovering menacingly over our every thought and action, waiting for us to make a mistake.
- God as a coddling therapist, stroking our fragile egos, blessing and baptizing our every inclination, placidly allowing us to marinate in the many and varied ways in which we have been victimized.
- God as a disinterested cosmic spectator, detached, remote, unapproachable. Impressive and serene, to be sure, but pretty much useless when it comes right down to it.
- God as exacting teacher, with lesson plans drawn up and exams prepared, ready to assign a grade upon our lives.
- God as inflexible policeman, enforcing moral order, making sure the right rules are kept for the right reasons.
- God as crystal ball, predictor of the future, plotter of events yet to come.
- God as insurance policy, a handy thing to have in case of emergencies, but mostly tucked away, out of sight, out of mind.
- God as fellow pilgrim, offerer of decent advice from time to time, ready and willing to be accessed as one (among many) sources of wisdom and guidance.
- God as healer, binding our wounds, curing our infirmities, easy enough to ignore until things fall apart.
- God as magician, waiting for the right incantations to be spoken, the proper oblations to be offered in order to weave his spells and grant our desires.
- God as source of blessing, the one who unlocks heaven’s bounty and lavishes it upon those who do or think what is right and true.
- God as judge, waiting to bring the gavel down on our lives, on the world itself.
- God as divine warrior, arming himself for a final showdown with the forces of darkness.
There are hints of truth in some of these, of course. Sometimes barely perceptible, to be sure, but hints nonetheless. But each one falls woefully short in countless ways, particularly when one is embraced to the exclusion of most others. Each one, when operating as our core understanding of who God is and how God works can leave us frustratedly chasing shadows when we inevitably realize that God (and life) is quite a bit more complicated than the meager scraps of truth that we have constructed our images of God upon.
Last night I attended a Steve Bell concert here in Lethbridge. This must be at least the sixth time I have seen him live and he never disappoints. A question that Steve asked between one of his songs last night has been rattling around in my brain throughout the day.
How might history have unfolded differently, what might the church look like today if our dominant understanding of God was that of a lover instead of a magistrate?
The question cuts right to the core of who we think God is, doesn’t it? We rehearse the verses that say “God is love,” we talk about the “love of God,” about how “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” But do we ever pause to consider just how remarkable this really is? Do we realize the implications of this stunning truth?”
What it means is that at the heart of it all, is love. It was love that spoke a world and human beings into existence… Love that allowed the beloved to walk away… Love that reached out, reached down, reached into the heart of the mess… Love that gave itself away… Love that will guide us home.
Behind it all, around it all, within it all, ahead of it all, pointing the way home…. Love.
This means that whatever else we might want to say about who God is, what God wants, and how God works, love is always lurking around the corner.
We say God judges sin, and he does, and he will… but the judge is a lover.
We say that God will be the victor over sin and death and evil, and he will… but the conqueror is first a lover.
We say that God is our teacher and our guide, that he has intentions for the shape of a human life… But before the teacher speaks a word, before the guide plots the course, he is a lover.
We say that God is moral and just and expects us to be moral and just…. But always and only for love’s sake. Because the lawgiver is a lover.
We say that God is our comforter and healer, that God wants us to be fulfilled and happy and blessed and healthy… But God’s desires go far beyond these things, because love does more than give goodies, it calls us to something, it invites us into something more expansive than the size and shape of our meagre wants. And because the comforter and the healer is first and foremost a lover.
Everything we say about God’s nature and interactions with the world is simultaneously constrained and liberated by this most basic and beautiful of truths.
Before anything. After everything. The first and the last word about God must always be love.
Because God is a lover.