When we hear the word “God,” something goes on in our minds. Now, however wonderful, however deep, rich, powerful, consoling, however philosophically and metaphysically precise, however scripturally sound, and orthodox, whatever that idea of God that is in our mind – is NOT God – and THIS is really the most important thing to know about God: that what we have in our mind when we hear or speak the word “God” is only a very imprecise image of God (paraphrased from Michael Himes awesome little 90-page book called The Mystery of Faith – a perfect Christmas gift for the seeker in your life with a theological bent). Us trying to figure out everything there is to know about God is like an ant trying to learn astrophysics. We are way out of our depth, to put it mildly. God, for us, can only be a mystery lived not a question that can be analyzed and answered. However, there is one metaphor that our tradition says is closer than all the others, and it’s from scripture which is always a good place to lean. Himes says “the least wrong thing” we can say about God is that God is love (from 1 John 4:8).
Sadly, in our culture the word “love” has really lost its force. It’s become a warm, fuzzy hallmark word we usually associate with romance and roses. So, let’s not do that. In Ancient Greek (the main, original language of our New Testament) there are four words for our one English word LOVE.
1. Philia = love between friends.
2. Storge = affection like that felt by parents for their children.
3. Éros = intimate, passionate love (though not necessarily always sexual) where our word “erotic” comes from and
4. Agape = unconditional selfless, self-giving, sacrificial love. The one used in our scriptures is of course this last one.
So, our scriptures say that God is Agape. As Christians, we believe that this kind of love is the very core of God’s divine essence. God IS (ontologically) the kind of love known as agape, perfect self-gift. God is the stuff between us, that holds us together. In other words, God is a relationship among persons (the Doctrine of the Trinity in a nutshell). So, when Jesus said that he would be present when 2 or 3 gathered, it was not because he was some kind of diva who needs a minimum audience in order to show up (what a great line from Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber. Imagining Jesus as a diva. Love it.). Rather when we gather in true mutual love (agape) with genuine care and concern for one another, God (Christ) will be discovered in what happens among us…for THIS is God.
Jesus says people will know we are his disciples not by the way we love God, but by the way we love one another. This is “THE way” – what the lifestyle of Christianity was called in the early church. Following Jesus means doing was Jesus would do if he was in your shoes today. God is not the object of love. God IS the love that exists among Jesus’ disciples…among us. The highest experience of God’s presence is in community. God is revealed primarily in the “WE” not the “ME.”
Jesus’ mission was to guide us to God; to show us the immense power that true agape holds. Just imagine what would happen if we all “followed” Jesus in this way; if we actively promoted that which connects us rather than what separates us, if we all lived the radical justice, inclusion and compassion that Jesus modeled for us. God would be incarnate…embodied…Emmanuel…. Perhaps this is what is meant by the “second coming of Christ”; Christ truly arriving anew, in our hearts, changing the way we live. An ambitious mission indeed. No small dream.
Agape image created by Laura Rangos