A few years ago I heard a preacher trying to explain what God is like by using this story:
The parents of the toddler had explained to their child that soon a baby would arrive in their house and that this new baby was a gift from God to their family.
Shortly after the baby arrived home the parents heard through the baby monitor their three-year-old enter the room of his new little brother. The parents listened with curiosity, and heard their toddler asking the baby “please tell me what God is like, I think I’m beginning to forget”.
Most of us have an image of God that is formed more by our upbringing and culture than by the facts of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We forget that God is our creator and instead think that God is our own creation. We lose sight of the beauty of being created in the image of God preferring to maintain our own invented fantasy-god in our own image. This is why we need to read and read again, to ponder and to ponder often the accounts of Jesus’ words and actions in the four gospels.
The easiest way to discover what God is like is by knowing Jesus who is God-with-us.
A good way to discover your own inner conviction about God is to listen to what you tell a child or a struggling person about God. Most Christians are at their best in these moments discovering in what they hear themselves saying their own convictions about our loving and merciful God.
But we can be slow to apply this reality of God to the gaze of love that God has towards us. We are usually too tough on ourselves and struggle to know that God is gazing on us with love, especially when we are feeling most weak and vulnerable.
In his first encyclical on Christmas Day 2005 Pope Benedict explained in detail who God is. The opening of his reflection is worth quoting in full:
“God is love, and they who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in them” . These words from the First Letter of John express with remarkable clarity the heart of the Christian faith: the Christian image of God and the resulting image of mankind and its destiny. In the same verse, Saint John also offers a kind of summary of the Christian life: “We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us”.
“We have come to believe in God’s love: in these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of their life. Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. Saint John’s Gospel describes that event in these words: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should … have eternal life”.
In acknowledging the centrality of love, Christian faith has retained the core of Israel’s faith, while at the same time giving it new depth and breadth. The pious Jew prayed daily the words of the Book of Deuteronomy which expressed the heart of his existence: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your might”. Jesus united into a single precept this commandment of love for God and the commandment of love for neighbour found in the Book of Leviticus: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”.
Since God has first loved us, love is now no longer a mere “command”; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us.
“In a world where the name of God is sometimes associated with vengeance or even a duty of hatred and violence, this message is both timely and significant. For this reason, I wish in my first Encyclical to speak of the love which God lavishes upon us and which we in turn must share with others. That, in essence, is what the two main parts of this Letter are about, and they are profoundly interconnected. The first part is more speculative, since I wanted here—at the beginning of my pontificate—to clarify some essential facts concerning the love which God mysteriously and gratuitously offers to humanity, together with the intrinsic link between that Love and the reality of human love.
- Take a few moments to consider what you would tell a child or a vulnerable adult about God.
- The most quoted sentence in this 40 paragraph encyclical is this: “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” Take time to digest the beauty of this fact, aware of how your relationship with Jesus gives you a “new horizon” and a “decisive direction.”
- You might like to read the full encyclical “God is Love” at this link.
- Take note of tomorrow evening’s talk in Christchurch by Br. Peter Bray (below). Especially timely in the light of last month’s tragic events.