Being God’s Beloved: Reflections on God’s Love.
Where do we start with a journey like this? Since our goal is to be God’s beloved, we should start with God, shouldn’t we? This is one of the important things that I realised when I started imagining this book. Initially I thought this would be a book about love – meditations on love. But as I went along, I began to realise that a book about being loved by God is not so much about love, as it is about God. God is the one who does the loving – it is God who loves us, not some abstract notion of love.
So this book is actually about God – our topic is God – the God who loves us. And that, of course, raises the fundamental question of who is God. If God is a God of love, then the idea of God loving us ought not be that difficult. But if God is a God of something else, then the idea of God loving us can be quite a challenge.
So, here’s the question for you as you read and reflect today. Who is your God?
Some will object to this question. “God is God,” they will say. “There is no ‘your God’. There is only ‘God’.” They may fear that we are creating God in our own image. They are right, in one sense. God is who God is – “I am who I am” (Ex 3:14). How we see God, who God is to us, does not change God. God is God’s own person. We do not get to dictate or even shape God’s character. And creating a personal image of God for ourselves that bears no relationship to the God who is, is not a smart thing to do.
But, we know God primarily in the context of our personal relationship with God. Yes, we can and do learn about God through God’s working in history, particularly through what is revealed in the Bible. And yes, God is who God is, independent of God’s relationship with me or you. But primarily, we know God as God relates to us. This is not so peculiar. It is true for all our relationships. We see people through our own eyes – we see them in the context of our relationship with them. All true knowing of people is relational – we know in relationship.
I am a university professor. If you asked my students who I am, they’d probably say I am a strict and demanding person. I have high expectations of them, I’m not easily satisfied, I’m pedantic about spelling and referencing, I demand punctuality and professionalism. (I see myself as also warm, supportive, responsive and helpful, but I’m not sure these are the qualities most of them would tell you about if you asked, “Who is your lecturer?”) I’m also a lay preacher at my church. If you asked my parishioners who I am, they’d probably say I am a warm, engaging, patient, listening and thoughtful person. (At least, that’s what I think they’d say if you asked, “Who is your lay preacher?”) These sound like two different people, don’t they? Truly, though, I am the same person – lecturer, lay preacher, father, husband, friend, employee, son, writer – Adrian is who Adrian is. But Adrian is experienced as a different person by different people.
People know us, and form a picture of who we are, in the context of their relationship with us. In the same way, we get to know people and form a picture of who they are, in the context of our relationship with them. That is how we know people.
In exactly the same way, we get to know God and form a picture of who God is in the context of our relationship with God. Our experience of God is who God is to us. And our experience of God, if authentic, points to something in heart of God. God may be different things to different people, because God meets us where we are, with our hopes and fears, with our experiences and scars. But we should recognise that there may be more to God than our own experience of God – God is multifaceted and we may have seen only a few of those facets.
So, as we engage with the question of who is our God, we look to our experience of and relationship with God, because this provides us with the most immediate insights into God. But we should also leave space to learn that God may be more, indeed, that God is more than what we have experienced. There is an ongoing journey of discovery open to us.
But there is more. It takes two to tango. It is not just that God meets each of us uniquely in the context of a unique relationship. It is also that we, ourselves, are unique, bringing ourselves into the relationship with God. Who we are, what we have experienced in life, what we have learned over the years, influences how we see God. For better or for worse, we do not see God as God truly is. We see God through the eyes of experience.
Our backgrounds shape, and sometimes distort, how we see God. Some of us, for example, were molested or hurt in various ways as children by our fathers or by father figures. This can influence how we see God, particularly when God is presented to us as Father. For some of us, God becomes the good parent who shows us what we ought to have experienced from our fathers. This can be healing and restoring – God saves us from bad fathering. For others, God is tainted by our painful experiences and it is hard to pray, “Our Father in heaven”. Every mention of God as father can evoke trauma and fear, ultimately destroying our relationship with God.
So, this question, “Who is your God?” speaks not only to God, but also ourselves. It requires us to look in the mirror and ask, “Who am I?” We need to open ourselves to the possibility that we may be distorting God because of our experiences or learning. Perhaps our picture of God is not authentic.
But there is still more! How we see God, who God is to us, changes us! We become who we are, in part, by how we see God. Our image of God is very important to our own development as human beings, as social beings and as beings in relation to God. So this question, “Who is your God?”, is important for yourself.
Let us then come back to this question. Who is your God? Or if you prefer, Who is God to you?
We need to find a place where we can experience God authentically, where we have a relationship with God that is true and genuine, so that who God is to us becomes more closely aligned with who God really is. A good place to do that is in the pages of the Bible. One can also do this in nature, in conditions of poverty, in a community of faith, through adversity – we can and do encounter God authentically in many contexts. But an important place is in the pages of scripture. This is because in the Scripture, we encounter God in relation to other people. And we begin to see God’s self-revelation over many years. As we see God in action, in fellowship with people, we begin to see God.
The problem with the Bible, however, is that God is multifaceted and varied. We can easily pull out passages where God is vengeful, wrathful, violent, dismissive, and hypersensitive. And we could build a picture of God on those texts. Many have done so, and many of us struggle with the remnants of these images as we relate to God today.
So, I suggest that instead of looking at small individual passages, we need to look at the broad sweep of history, of extended passages and recurring themes in the Bible, of the entire Bible story. It is as we step back from the details and look at the whole, that we begin to get a clearer sense of who God is. And as we do that, we begin to develop our experience of who our God is, of who God is to us.
As I have done this, I have increasingly been struck by God’s love. While there are many examples of God not behaving lovingly, the broad biblical narrative – the Bible story – is a great love story. God repeatedly shows God’s love for individuals and nations and the whole world. God’s love is the dominant theme of the Bible.
It is my hope that as we continue on this journey together, as you reflect on the God who is revealed to us in our lives and in the Bible, that you will find an answer to this question, “Who is your God?” And that, perhaps, you will discover that your God is the one who loves you.
Meditation for the Day
Try to put into words (or if you prefer, into a picture or music or dance) who God is to you.
Prayer for the Day
Lord God, I ask that you reveal yourself to me in new and authentic ways today. Help me to discover more of who you. Open my heart, open my eyes, to perceive you, to move into a deeper relationship with you.