Thursday, February 11, 2016

Who is God? (God is Love...?)

(This post was originally posted on my Facebook page, which I have recently decided to fast from for Lent.  I decided to be a little more intentional about my search and questions for God.  I'd love this to be a conversation, so I'll post some of the responses I got on FB here, and I hope to get a lot more in the comments section below!)

The little video from Sojourners, Ashes to Go made me very contemplative about my own qualms with the church and God and faith. I suppose Lent is a good time for that. Last week, the pastor preached a sermon that asked, what do we think of God and what do we believe that God thinks of us? I really think this might be the crux of faith and the issue with which I've been struggling.
You may have heard the phrase, "speak the truth in love." The idea on one part, is that, if you really love someone, then you will reveal to them the hard and maybe even ugly things about them. This is true, but I so often see this as an excuse for Christians to be nasty to people, while throwing it under the guise of love. I propose, that this really means that the person needs to know they are well-loved BEFORE receiving the difficult word. Otherwise, the word feels more like condemnation...and maybe in many cases that's exactly what it is, because the person sharing does not love or maybe even know the person to whom they speak. Guilt is ok-ish, if it then leads to change, but often, and at least in my case, there's a tendency to dwell in that guilt. And that can be paralyzing, leaving us stuck in our dysfunction.
Back to my view of God: I think in my case and perhaps many other struggling Christians, we hear "God is Love." We know this, but for some reason we always seem to hear and fixate on the idea that God is really disappointed in us (I even have a hilarious paraphrase of the Bible that is labeled exactly as such). What if, we knew that we were so unbelievably loved by the One who made us and knows us better than we know ourselves? Would that change the way that we think about ourselves, even while looking at our ugly parts? Would that change how we view others? Can a transformation take place in that space of accepting Love?
I don't usually post this forwardly about my faith (or my struggle to keep one thereof), but I guess I felt compelled by my grandma's recent death (and her loving, faithful life) and by entering this season of Lent and looking at my own mortality that life is short and I need to address these things head on. I feel many people may be in the spot that I am. If so, let me know, and I'd love to make this journey with you offline or in a different space. I'm searching for the God who I know loves me, as I am, and in spite of any darkness or perceived darkness inside my heart, with a transformative Love. I'm not looking for pat answers either. I struggle with that in religion, that there's a simple answer when it seems it's not...and yet it is: when it's simply Love. And exploring Jesus, as perhaps that physical, alive person to more fully convey that Love.

Comment from my friend Brandon V: "I believe unconditional love is absolutely necessary for self transformation to occur. Only by accepting everything that makes us who we are (including the dark stuff) starting with our thoughts, words, actions, and habits can we truly say we love "ourselves" unconditionally. I put the word "ourselves" in quotes because we tend to define the self with words or symbols and not more accurate ways of defining the reality of what we are. This clouds our judgment of the self and can cleverly place things we need to address outside the box of who or what we are, and place blame on environment (an extension of the self) or on another (a reflection of the self). We must love ourselves unconditionally with acceptance of the good and bad before we can change. If we set conditions, deny the truth, or shirk responsibility, we resist the change. Change is prevented by spending energy on denying the need for it. We free the energy to be used to transform the self when we no longer resist the change by applying truly unconditional love. When the mind is clear and still, the miracle occurs."

Comments from my friend Drew: "On "What does God think of us..."

I think that "love," itself, needs a discussion in semantics. I'm not sure that God "loves us" in the same way that we tend to use the term. But then, who knows what an entity that by very definition is beyond our understanding, thinks/feels. 

I would imagine that God has more of a Buddhist take in regards to love. We don't "love" the hair on our head, or else we are superficial/materialist. We can love what we do with the hair on our head, love in a human way, but with the understanding that it is in transition. Do we love it any less when we are young, when we are old and gray, when we are bald? There is a beauty in all phases and we must all learn to appreciate the phases as a greater whole and as an object in transition. Does God love us when we do wrong? Yes, because God sees the entire path and is not fixated on a place along that path. 

Instead of hair, what about a stomach. Do I love my stomach? Probably not when I have a stomach ache. But, I should... that stomach ache is trying to tell me something. Perhaps it's trying to tell me that I had unsafe or unhealthy food. Perhaps it told me that I have a virus. We need to learn to see pain with love, to understand where it fits in the greater scheme of things. We need to look at the path and the whole, rather than the specific and temporary. I think the same goes with looking at the whole of humanity as a large body/organism. What insight can we gain from those that cause us pain and grief? If we don't "love" the source of pain, perhaps we fail to understand its purpose. 

Since we are always blind to the future and lack the insight that a lifetime may or may not shed (it's difficult to know what another person has been through or where the future will lead them), I'm not sure that we can love so much as remember not to hate. We can call it love if we view love as a form of acceptance, but we often use it with a stronger meaning than that.

I don't think that God loves so much as God accepts. It's the gift of insight. Not sure if I'm being clear enough with my meaning but I'm trying to throw out a perspective and food for thought. I think we need to be careful with how we define love in regards to God, because it's easy to personify something we don't really understand all that well. I think personification can be a trap in thinking."
Reply from me:  "That's a fair assessment. There are certainly different kinds of love too. C.S. Lewis wrote a book called "the Four Loves" which goes into some of the varying definitions. And our culture has come to use the word "love" in place of the word "like" as well, sort of stripping some of the special intensity of the word. Lewis uses the term Unconditional Love to describe the love of God (EDIT: I checked, and Lewis actually uses the term "Charity", which I'm ambivalent towards, though I think he meant it in a deeper sense than us modern folk take the term), no matter what we have done or will do, we are loved, and loved regardless of any emotion typically attached to the word love. Love as a verb. I use capitol L Love. It is like a parent and child, but as I think you mean here, human analogy can only take us so far if we are talking of a divine being rather than a human. And I think that's the trap we fall under when we follow religion too...religion, is basically OUR reaching out for God. It's human by nature, but not to say that it might not be touched or directed occasionally by divine insight. Anyway, we have a very imperfect picture of God, but as human, the best we can do is to recognize that. Perhaps that's where prayer comes into play? Perhaps we are given the ability to love at least in part, to the portion that God can Love a person? But maybe part of that, is to recognize the overwhelming and unattainable Love that God shows to us? And in that recognition of being Beloved, we can (at least imperfectly) love others - and ourselves - in a more complete measure?"

And what happens when/if a God decides to reduce God's self to human form? To feel as we do, to go through our existence? To reach us in Love in a more tangible way and still be connected to the Godself? To model the way we are to love as humans perhaps? To show that suffering is a way to connect to others, not to be avoided. To show that Love is laying down our lives for another. I think this is why I find Jesus not only an intriguing figure but a doorway into who God is. Of course, if you believe it to be true."

Reply from Drew: "well, in that case, you have two centuries of debate over what Jesus was/represented. Of course, I choose not to weigh in on that specific angle since my personal beliefs do not view Jesus as part of a trinity.
I may read that book by Lewis."
Reply from me: "I feel like I'm being pulled to strip away everything in order to have it built back up again. I think I shall blog. I'll continue this there. I may pull some of these initial thoughts people sent me there."

Reply from Drew: "Everyone should challenge presumptions and blindly accepted/taught beliefs. Just do so with an open heart and mind and an openness to what input others have (from all perspectives). I think that is a better description of being "born again" anyway... not the usual meaning."

Comment from my friend Joyce: "It's not easy. Sometimes there are no answers, but I still believe God is love and loves each and every one of us."
Reply by Drew: "I believe that God is present and undeniable. I just try not to define it beyond that... Just posting as an affirmation of belief."

Comment from my friend Brandon: "The summation of my beliefs resulting from my experiences as an open-minded lover of all: There is nothing that is not God."