Over the next few weeks I’ll be writing about the distorted lenses through which we see ourselves and life and the Godhead and how these distortions are the things that stand between us and a deep and loving relationship with Christ. So here’s the first one…
If you’re having trouble accepting that God loves you, doesn’t that say more about your image of God than about you being unlovable? Are you just projecting him to be a bigger human being, maybe your Dad and Mother combined, but more powerful? Are you equating God’s feelings about you with how you feel about yourself?
Get real! You are not seeing God, but only some limited idea of God that you project onto him, a “God” who is going to reject you because you did this and that or because you are not perfect or for some other reason. We need to be very clear about who God is and isn’t. First of all, let’s remember that there is no way we can be so very certain that we know exactly who God is, because our limited human brains can only think so big. So assume that you have no idea of the totality of who God is. We can only know what we’ve been taught and what we read in the Bible, but we need to have all that confirmed in the relationship with God himself in order to totally trust what we know. That’s why I stress asking, letting God show you who he is, how he wants you to think of him.
There are two main things to know about God: 1)that he is the Creator of the whole universe, unknowable, mystery itself, and 2)he wants a close relationship with each one of us. He is Creator of all things and the Ultimate Mystery and he sent his son, Jesus, to become human, to show us how to live in that close relationship with him, how to live fully. God is as far away as the farthest corner of the Universe(or in other universes as scientists now predict!) and as close to you as your breath, your soul, your heart and your mind.
We are taught all kinds of things about God but if we don’t let the images of God we learned as a child grow up with us, if we don’t learn from God how he wants us to know him, we can stay with those childish images forever.
Think of those early images of God, often the big, demanding Parent, the Big Guy in the sky, the One with the white beard throwing thunderbolts, as loaded into our operating system, just like the operating system of a computer. That image becomes our default setting. We may change how we view God, we may add in the God of Love, but the evolving ideas about God, even the ones that come from God himself, are just patched onto the old belief/operating system. We don’t even know it is still operative, but when push comes to shove, we go right back to the old beliefs, to the default position.
I know this happened to me for years. I grew up in a hell-fire-and-damnation church. By the time I was a young adult, my concept of God was this: he sat on my shoulder like a raven ready to zap me for anything I did wrong. God for me was capricious, vengeful and demanding of perfection. Later I came to believe that God was actually, truly a God of love, but the early belief system I adopted as a child was the one that formed my self-image and was still operational in me.
Fortunately, during my spiritual direction training program my supervisor one day asked me when I was going to get mad at God. I just stared at her. You don’t get mad at a vengeful God. But she asked me again: “when are you going to get mad at God?” This time I stood up in the middle of the session and said, “I guess right now.” And left. I lived in N. California at the time within a half hour of the beach. So I headed to the beach.
You have to understand that N. California beaches are mostly deserted all year long because they are cold and often foggy even in the summertime. The water, too, is cold—usually about 53 degrees. So, except for a few fishermen and joggers, those beaches are usually deserted. So I did get angry at God that day—for putting me in that church, for believing that he was so awful, for the impact that had on my life—I danced and yelled and let out the anger I hadn’t even known I held towards him, until it was spent.
It’s taken some years and I still sometimes struggle with accepting God’s love, but now I not only believe that he loves me, I can often feel that love. I am so grateful to my supervisor for asking the question that set me free.
Our own guilt and shame define who God is for us, until we realize that God has loved us—just as we are—all our lives. God loves each and everyone of us, just as we are. We are all his prodigal sons and daughters(Luke 15:11ff). When we finally return to our own true home, we are welcomed fully, celebrated even. God has been watching out for us, in case we repented, returned to his arms. He celebrates our return and restores our inheritance to us, even if we’ve squandered what he gave us before.
In this stunning parable Jesus is telling us that God is not surprised at what we say and do; he only wants us to come back to his arms. He watches and waits for us. He kills the fatted calf to celebrate our return. He loves us. Exactly as we are.
We’re the ones who so judge ourselves that we can’t accept his love. We’re the ones who hold him at arms’ length. We’re the ones who hang on to our childish images of God.
He calls us by name(Isaiah 43:1). He forgives all that we are. He has no great expectations of us other than we hear his call and heed it. He loves us; each one of us is made in his image. What more does he have to do or say to you to get you to believe what he says? He gave us free will, wants us to return to him willingly. He doesn’t coerce us, force us to comply. He is not surprised by our humanness, by our mistakes, by our sins. He created us with the choice to do evil or do good. Now is the time to do good.
He’ll show us how. He’ll lead us. He’ll hold us and comfort us. He’ll love us. What more do you want? Say “Yes!” now.
Questions to ponder over the week: Is my image of God based on my own feelings about the kind of person I am? Or do I love and worship God as he is? Can I actually feel God’s love for me?
Blessing for the week: May we be the people of God as he has revealed himself to us, through the Bible and through our own relationship with him. May we be able to feel God’s love for us and share it out in the world. May everything we do be done with love.
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If you’d like to see more of By the Waters, check these out:
–There’s a new video up on YouTube: “Jesus’ Two Great Commandments” youtu,be/xXnQnWljpZ8 and five others.
–Check out my twitter feed at twitter.com/BTWwithPatAdams
–Check out the offerings page on this website which features a CD of guided meditations designed to help deepen your spiritual life and a series of booklets on the Life of the Spirit.