It’s funny. The thing that more than anything has put this on my heart is a recognition that I think we have you all wrong. What makes us such a messed up culture and messed up world is that we think of you the wrong way. I said this on Facebook, and then I said it in my first draft:
We have God disastrously wrong.
We focus a lot on God being powerful, and when tragedy happens, we wonder why he didn’t intervene or assume he caused the tragedy on purpose. So we see God as fickle and heartless.
We focus a lot on God being just and righteous, and when the unthinkable happens we think we must have done something to deserve it. So we see God as a vindictive tyrant.
We don’t focus enough about the ramifications of God being about love first. Love creates what it cannot control, as any parent will tell you. And that allows us to see God as one who understands how badly it hurts when things don’t go the way you wanted.
In fact, though the story told in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures gets read through the lenses of power and justice, if you think about it, they’re also a collection of stories about God creating out of love and then constantly having to make the best of things going horribly wrong.
I can’t really talk about the backstory to this without opening a window to someone else’s private pain, but I was listening to the readings in daily mass today, and when the first one talked about repentance, I thought “That’s not the message they need to hear from God right now,” and when the Psalm said Exult in how great God is, I thought “That’s definitely not what they need to hear right now.” But if they heard “I know what love’s labor lost feels like, too,” from God, that would be relevant to their pain. And very much the truth of God’s story.
I posted this on Facebook a few days before Lent, and the comments I got helped me realize just how deeply we have things wrong. We have inherited a model of what it is to be God from a past hierarchical, monarchal society, and while we’ve patched some love and mercy on top of it, we haven’t been able to jettison the essential focus on God as powerful, all-knowing judge who happens to be loving and merciful. My hope in this is to work out what it would mean if we flipped that model on its head – if we started from the position that God is first and foremost one who loves, out of which comes everything else.
What makes it funny is, in some ways, I’m back where I started. As you know, my first religion class in college was “Faith and Imagination,” and one night I went into the classroom and scrawled all over the blackboard “What if we have God all wrong? What if God is really just Love, like John said? What if God was the sum of all Love? Just think of the hymnal.” Then I wrote all my favorite pop songs about love all over the board.
The next morning, Professor Kinlaw came in, took in the blackboard, and gave approval to the Beatles’ songs but trashed the rest. Then he erased it all and went back to droning on about Lewis and Tolkien.
But here I am, thinking we miss who you are because we don’t start with Love as your definition. We want to talk about you as a Mighty King, probably because we sorta want to be kings ourselves. We talk about you as a magisterial father, because we definitely value being in charge. We talk about your justice, either because we want to extract justice on our enemies or because we think, if God is all-powerful, He must have some unfathomable level of justice and goodness, or else He is a hideous monster.
But you’re not. You are love. Even we feeble souls get that it is better to suffer the pain of love in a mess than forgo love altogether. Why can’t we understand that about you? Why can’t we connect that, just as out of love we create children that we know will see all sorts of pain, so do you? Because that is the trade off love always makes gladly.
And if that’s the lens through which we see the world, we can realize that our life is not about following a bunch of rules, including rules about asking forgiveness for the rules we break. It’s not about trying to be perfect and feeling like we have to sacrifice something to make up for our imperfection. It’s not trusting that you have a master plan that all looks great from your point of view, and we ought reconcile ourselves to acceptance of living as pawns in your mystery plan. It’s about loving you back as hard as we can, and loving everything you made just as a parent loves what their child has made for them in crafts class, even if it’s really just garbage. You, unlike the child, don’t make garbage, of course, but we ought to love the seemingly unlovable person just as hard as we would our child’s ashtray. And in that loving the seemingly unlovable, we might free them from their ugliness so they can be, not a crappy ashtray, but the gorgeous work of art you made them to be.
That’s what happens when we start with God as Love. It’s not so much that we cede the point about You being In Charge or You having a Master Plan or You being the Just Judge. It’s just that we don’t care about that point because it’s not the point at all. You are Abba, Daddy. You are the source of our Love because you want to give us a chance to love like you.