What God is as great as our God?
Scripture frequently uses these words to challenge us and we too rarely reflect upon them: Has anyone ever believed in a God as great as ours? Great, not just in terms of power, but, especially, in terms of goodness.
Julian of Norwich, whose theology of God has few equals, used to see God this way: “I see God, sitting at a table, smiling, completely relaxed, his face like a marvellous symphony.” That vision, foreign, and even perhaps scandalous to common conception and Christian preaching, is the one that, in the end, best fits the vision of God given us in Scripture.
The first image we get of God in the Old Testament, immediately after creation, is that of a God looking down on this earth and saying: “It is good; indeed, it is very good!” This is paralleled at the beginning of the New Testament, at the baptism of Jesus, when God is seen again as looking down from heaven, on his child, and saying: “This is my beloved child in whom I take delight!” The essential attitude of Jesus can only be understood in this light. He knew God intimately and thus, in the deepest part of himself, could hear God say the deepest thing that God does say: “You are blessed. I am pleased with you. The earth is blessed. I am pleased with it.” Because he heard this inside of himself, Jesus could look at the world, and everyone in it, and see it and them as blessed: “Blessed are you.”
Many implications flow from this, both in regards to how we view God and in how we see life.
First of all, regarding how we view God: Do we ever view God as relaxed, content, pleased with us, and pleased, in fact, with the world? Do we ever believe that God takes delight in us and in the world?
Most of us, I suspect, are no longer much haunted by images of a punishing, legalistic, vindictive, and arbitrary God, a God who records every sin and who exacts an ounce of suffering for an ounce of sin. Few of us still suffer from this particular fear. Most of us, however, still suffer from an equally unhealthy and debilitating fear of God. Today this just takes a different form. For us, God is no longer the great watchdog in the sky, but is, nonetheless, far far from pleased, relaxed, and smiling. Our God, instead, is a workaholic overly-intense, wired, displeased, and semi-neurotic. He no longer threatens us with hellfire, but he isn’t smiling, relaxed, and pleased either. This is equally true in liberal and conservative circles – both of which mirror, precisely, the neurotic intensity and constant displeasure that come from believing in of a hyper, workaholic, and unhappy God.
We are still a long ways from really believing that God is smiling, relaxed, and seeing us and the world as blessed. Consequently, consciously or unconsciously, we believe that God’s first mode of interpretation, when seeing us and the world, is that of depreciation rather than appreciation. Not unlike so many generations in the past, of whom we are so critical, we still see God as looking down on this world in judgement, in sadness, and with disappointment, rather than with appreciative consciousness.
It is no accident then that, for the most part, that is also the way we look at ourselves and the world, namely, our first mode of interpretation is depreciation rather than appreciation: Before we see what is good, we see what is wrong; before we appreciate, we judge; before we are pleased, we are disappointed; before we bless, we curse; and before we there is joy, there is anger. Before there is appreciative consciousness there is always criticism.
Moreover, and this is the point here, too often we do this in the name of God. We see ourselves as defending truth, values, orthodoxy, or some cause and, under that divine mandate, unconsciously and consciously, we make our first task that of displeasure, criticism, and judgement. These have a place, but theirs is the second place, not the first. First, before depreciation, there must be appreciation, before any criticism there must first be appreciative consciousness. Why?
Because God works that way. Long before there is any judgement on this planet or on any of us, God is saying: “It is good. You are my beloved child in whom I am well-pleased!” God is smiling, relaxed, and not neurotic. When we, liberal and conservative alike, are in a similar mode we will see the world in a similar fashion.