Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Size of God, And The Size of Our Fears

"How big is God?" she asked.  It made me think.

Is God as big as the Universe?

If God is the size of the Universe, how did God make it?

If God is bigger than the Universe, where does God end?

If God has no end, is size even a question?

Living with precocious kids tends to make one think.  And sometimes their innocent, in-the-moment questions are my middle-of-the-night ponderings.

What if God is not a size?  Small enough to fit in our deepest, darkest recess of our heart so that God can help clean it out, but also so huge that even if our problems are gigantic God is more massive to the point that they are nothing.

Every so often I have to remind myself that the only thing that limits God is my fear. My fears actually. God is bigger, louder, grander, more loving, more subtle, more magnificent, more magnanimous, more everything than my anything. So what stops me from going to God with my anything.  My worries for my wife or my kids? My sins that keep cropping up? My issues with my co-worker? God's got it covered, if I let God in.

That's the funny thing about God. God is not rude. If God is love, the 13th chapter of First Corinthians describes not only Love, but God.  What is God like? "Patient, kind, not envious, nor boastful, nor arrogant, nor rude [emphasis mine].  God does not insist on God's own way; not irritable or resentful; does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. God bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. God never ends." God will let us choose, because God is unbelievably patient. God will always win whatever war of attrition game we think we are playing. God will let us choose, because God hopes in us. So, what is holding me back, steeped in my mess?

The only thing that limits God is my fears.  I feel like FDR.  "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Many might quote at me the phrase repeated in Scripture, "The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom."  Yes, that may be the case.  Many people start their God journey afraid of hell or judgment.  That may be the beginning, but it is just that, the beginning.  

Medieval theologian Bernard of Clairvaux described the four stages in his treatise, On Loving God.  He starts off by saying that the first stage is loving Self for Self's Sake, a.k.a. Dear God, save my rear end.  We love God because we have to do so to save ourselves, or so the thinking goes. That is why I say that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  It cannot stop there.  Those for whom their descriptions of God are like an angry, abusive parent are the ones who have become developmentally delayed. God only needs to smite if God is through with you. I do not see God that way (remember, God is patient, kind, etc).

Bernard went on to say that after loving Self for Self's Sake, we move to loving God for Self Sake.  We begin to see how wonderful, beautiful, magnificent God is.  Instead of an angry parent, God is a beautiful artist.  Distant, unattainable, holy. Remember, "holy" means set apart.  And this second stage of loving God is just that, looking up and thinking, "Wow! So wonderful.  So perfect. So unattainable." It is the idolization of God, almost. It is a love of the ideal of God instead of with Godself.  

But then something funny happens, this distant stranger moves towards us, and invites us into relationship.  I once had a boss, a man I deeply respected.  He was tall, intimidating, and had about the depth of voice as James Earl Jones with a head cold.  Some of the folks who were under me on the hierarchy were terrified of him, and even called him Sasquatch behind his back.  But one day, he invited me to stop calling him Dr. Smith, not his real name, but rather by his first name.  He invited me into relationship.  The respect did not lessen, actually the opposite. It deepened more than I can say. I saw this person of intimidation, then respect, as a cherished friend, and colleague and a great boss. I truly came to love him. This is like Bernard's Third Stage, loving God for God's Sake. This is the level of intimacy and relationship. And one might think that this would be the end of loving God. But Bernard, in his profound wisdom, did not end there.

His final stage on loving God is where we get beyond the fear. Many can love God and be in a profound relationship with God, but never be able to let go of the negative and destructive views of themselves. Are they still sinners? Of course, but they are profoundly and deeply loved. They are not loved in spite of, they are just loved. And in that loving, they are transformed. Bernard's final stage on loving God, is actually Loving Self for God's Sake. That transformative, unexplainable, Grace with a capital G is what we are talking about. When we are enabled to see and act as God sees us and made us to be, it declares the Glory of God.

What limits God, at work in and through my life? My fears.  My insecurities. Not about God, but about me. Think on it. Peter sank while walking on water. Too often I have heard it said that it was because he took his eyes of Jesus. But how can that be? He called for Jesus first! He did not lack faith in Jesus. He lacked faith in himself, in who God was calling him to be and better yet, made him to be. May we be encouraged to be who God made us to be as well, and when we are called, may we have the courage of conviction in our God who calls and in ourselves as we step out of the boat.  

Perfect love drives out fear.  I John 4:18

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Blessings, Rock