Monday, May 23, 2016

Imagining the Holy One

John 16:12-15
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31

How do you imagine God?  What do you think about when you think about God?  Is there a primary visual image or word image?  Is God alone?  Who do you address when you pray?  God or Jesus, or a combination of both?  The Christian Church, like its forebear Judaism, recognizes that we can only imagine what God is like, or who God is, because we are too small to know the Holy One.  We are finite creatures.  We cannot know the infinite Creator.  John Wesley wrote, “Bring me a worm that can comprehend a man, and then I will show you a man that can comprehend the triune God.”  Even “triune God” is a construct that tries to speak about the Mystery that is beyond us and still intimate.  Our faith traditions imagine God in fluid images and today we celebrate the relationality of God by imagining that God is in God’s very Self a relationship.

Dennis Linn, along with his wife Sheila and brother Matthew, write that “we become like the God we adore.”  In their book, Good Goats: Healing Our Image of God, the Linns posit that our understanding of God’s character shapes our own character.  If we believe that God is the essence of love, we will seek to be more compassionate.  If we believe that God is judgmental and harsh, we will judge others and treat them harshly.  I highly recommend the Linns’ book if you haven’t read it.  Sometimes our image of God comes from the Church, sometimes from the way we were parented, and sometimes it is shaped by our own experience.  

So let’s look at some images of God on this day that the Church identifies as Trinity Sunday.  The very idea behind the Trinity is that God is not alone.  In the second creation story in the book of Genesis (Genesis 2) we read that, “The Lord God saw that it was not good for man to be alone,” and created woman.  In telling their stories of God, it seemed to the Hebrew people that it was also not good for God to be alone.  In the first creation story (Genesis 1) we read, “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness. . . . So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.’”  Later the writer of Proverbs describes Wisdom as a being that existed with God before all of creation.  Wisdom tells us that she was God’s partner in creation.  Either created by or born of God (you can read both in this passage), Wisdom labored with God in the creation of the world.  She is sometimes called Sophia, or Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom), in Orthodox and Roman Christianity.  Wisdom is one expression of the essence of God that we call the Holy Spirit.

What does the writer of Proverbs tell us about Wisdom?  That she cries out at the gates of the city, and in the streets and marketplace, calling all to acquire prudence and intelligence.  She sings a song of the beauty and goodness of creation:
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
   when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped,
   before the hills, I was brought forth—
when he had not yet made earth and fields,
   or the world’s first bits of soil.
When he established the heavens, I was there,
   when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
   when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
   so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
    then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
   rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
   and delighting in the human race.

Wisdom rejoices in the beauty and wonder of all that God has made and delights in humanity.  Wisdom delights in humanity!  In the gospel reading from John, Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as the Advocate.  Ad advocate is one who pleads the case of another, or supports and promotes the interest of another.  In other words, the Holy Spirit delights in us and roots for us.  The Holy Spirit pleads for us, supports and promotes what is in our best interest.  It doesn’t make sense that the nature of God is divided concerning any part of creation, including humanity.  So if God delights in us and pleads for us, who is it that is against us?   Here it would be really easy to imagine an evil being, and that’s exactly what some theologians have done using Jesus’ description of the Holy Spirit as The Advocate.  The court room is set up with humanity on trial before God the supreme judge and Satan as the prosecuting attorney.        

Let me offer another scenario.  Let’s return to Wisdom, who delights in humanity, and calls humans to act intelligently and prudently.  Humans are created with free will.  We make choices every day that have lasting effects on our lives and the lives of others.  Our physical, mental, and emotional health depend on the choices we make.  Three of the students in my class this year are doing internships in agencies that minister to people who are suffering from the effects of alcohol and drug abuse, violence, PTSD, and mental illness.  When one student writes about encounters with these people, she tries to imagine them as God sees them.  These people may or may not have had the advantage of a loving home with caring parents, but the One who created them loved them as children and loves them still, even as they are doing damage to their lives.  Each of my students advocate for the health and well-being of the people with whom they work.  In the same way, I imagine the Holy Spirit trying to support and protect us from ourselves, calling us to choose life.  I believe that the Holy Spirit, the One who advocates for us, gives us openings and nudges toward life.  We may have made such horribly poor decisions that our next options are not very good, but we always have a choice between better and worse.  Every time we make the better choice, we move back toward wholeness and the possibility of new life.  The Holy Spirit never stops pleading with us to make the better choice.  The apostle Paul wrote that the Spirit prays for us when we cannot pray in sighs too deep for words.  The Spirit always calls us toward healing even when we cannot hear or choose not to listen.

The word juxtaposition is used frequently in theological conversations.  It is the idea of holding two ideas side by side to understand each idea better.  My students constantly hold the trauma and heartbreak of self-destructive behaviors next their belief in the worthiness and belovedness of each human soul.   What holds the two ideas together is that image of God as being intimately relational.  Imagining the very core of God’s being to be relational suggests that our well-being is tied to one another.  When we understand ourselves as God’s children, we begin to see every other person as God’s beloved child, which makes us brothers and sisters.  We are related and that makes us responsible for one another.  
There are some theologians who imagine the Trinity as only the beginning, or the heart of, of an ever-increasing family that encompasses us all.  I like that image, but I’m not sure what to call it—oh, wait!  Maybe that’s the Kindom of God—that’s Kingdom without the “g.”  It speaks about the relationality within God and humanity.   Imagine!  


  
 

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