Tuesday, March 27, 2012

God loves you

Lenten Meditation  27 March 2012
            “God does not love you because you are good, God loves you because God is good.”  (Page 164)

Michelangelo painting of God, Sistine Chapel, the Vatican, Rome

            All of us, I believe, have devised some sort of what Father Rohr calls “meritocracy” in order to determine the parameters of worthiness for receiving God’s love, mercy, and grace.  We may speak of Grace as a free expression of God’s munificence, but deep down in our heart of hearts we have a built-in need to limit God’s reach either for ourselves or for someone else.   Even though we profess theologically that salvation—the greatest gift of Grace—cannot be earned, we hedge that tenet by fairly innocuous conditions which become, in fact, steps to earning or proving that we have earned our place in heaven.  We must pray a certain prayer, we must have a certain attitude, we must do something to prove to God that we are worthy of receiving God’s love.

            I am not willing to go quite so far as to proclaim a universalist salvation, but at the same time, it is not our place to decide who goes to heaven and who descends into hell, which is shorthand for speaking of who is saved and who is condemned.  American Christians, Protestant and Catholic, are quick to damn those who are different, whether by culture or race or economic status, to the fiery furnace of the nether world; we determine by our own particular criteria who is “in” and who is “out.”  And yet our Lord Jesus cautions us “Judge not (condemn not) lest you be judged.”

            We are told in Genesis 1:27, “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”  (NRSV)  Throughout history, human beings have used this passage to work backward from human to divine to ideate what God either is like or looks like, since we are created in God’s image.  As a small child growing up, I saw in my Sunday school room a drawing of God as what I now see as a Zeus-like figure sitting on a large stone throne with a very long beard and a stern expression.  Many of my generation and older saw this same picture or a similar one, and that child-like image continues into our adulthood.  There were other pictures in that class room including Jesus who looked very northern European smiling as he receives children, Noah’s ark receiving the animals two-by-two, and Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden with a very large snake lurking in the background.  In a subtle way each of these pictures helped craft my early image of God in whose image and likeness I was created.  Children are absolutely concrete in their thinking and cannot imagine God as Spirit, as formless, as anything other than humanoid.  But then adults tend to have this same trait, which is why we project onto God our facial features as well as our very human tendencies to pettiness and jealousy and very conditional love.

            What is it to be created in the image and likeness of God?  I will not try to rehearse what theologians through the ages have posited, but I will give you my own condensed version, which is at the core of my own theology.  God is both creative and loving; beyond that is conjecture.  Genesis 1 and 2 proclaim God’s creative nature as foundational; God creates “ex nihilo” out of nothing by calling forth creation, “And God said…and it was…”  God speaks and it is.  In Genesis 3 we see God as lover not when all is wonderful, before the temptation as God walks through the garden in the cool of the day, but when First Man and First Woman have defied the command against eating of the fruit of a particular tree.  There are consequences for their actions—removal from Eden, pain of childbirth for woman, hard work for man, bodily death, eating dust for the serpent—but God clothes the pair and gives them food for their sustenance.  The remainder of Scripture, often called Salvation history, is God’s continuous calling of humanity back into relationship with God because of God’s love for creation.  We see that love in the patriarch saga, in Moses as he leads the Hebrews out of Egypt as well as the giving of the Law, in the prophetic calls to holiness, in sending God’s Son Jesus, in the Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost event, and in the continuing care for proclaiming God’s love to ALL people.

            In other words, we who are created in the image and likeness of God are called to be creative and loving toward all creation.  No, we cannot create “out of nothing,” but we all have a creative bent in some area, some talent, some gift that fashions beauty for all to see.  More important is the gift of love which burns in our hearts to be shared with another person and community.  We are not fully human when we are alone; we only begin to become complete in relationship as we share ourselves and the love God has infused into our very being.  There is an old adage that love only grows when it is given away, a characteristic, I believe of being created in God’s likeness.

            God does not love you only when you are good; God loves you because it is God’s nature to love you.  Nothing you have ever done or ever will do will cause God to cease from loving you—or anyone else.  That is who God is—a lover.  The sooner we get in our heads and hearts that God loves us, the sooner we will begin to act like God and begin to love all those God loves.  Repeating the quotation above just might be the start of a new perspective:  “God does not love you because you are good; God loves you because God is good.”

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