One of our traditions most treasured mystics once said, “It is a lie – any talk of God that does not comfort you.” The way we conceive of our God; as hostile or loving, “on our team” or “the giant task master in the sky”, judge or defender, etc. effects our whole life. In a substantial way, our image of God will determine our sense of purpose, our capacity for joy and happiness, and our ability to love and connect with others.
Fr. John Powell, S.J. in his old gem of a book The Christian Vision: The Truth That Sets Us Free tells the story of a man who comes home drunk one night only to observe a thirty-five-foot snake on his lawn. He becomes so afraid that he gets a hoe from the garage and frantically chops it up. The next morning, he discovers, to his immense humiliation, that he has chopped his garden hose into pieces. This story highlights how much of our behavior is based on our perception. If you see a hose as a snake, then – to you – it is a snake. Some of us inherited a skewed image of God that we have lived with our whole life and possibly never questioned – or even felt qualified to question. If we have been taught to see God as a judgmental, fickle, threatening presence – whether this is something based on truth or not – it IS the truth for us and our behavior will reflect this perception.
The Linns, in their terrific little book called Good Goats: Healing Our Image of God, state that in a very real and concrete way, we become the God we adore. “If we adore a warrior God, we become war-like. If we know a stern, judgmental God, we become judgmental. If our God is petty and over-scrupulous, so we too become petty and over-scrupulous.” It reminds me of that old joke “God made us in His own image and likeness, and we have been trying to repay the favor ever since!” We definitely tend to project our “smallness” onto God, no?
“God knows us each by our name and face,” Pope Francis says “each person is a unique son or daughter of God, and a brother or sister of Jesus…How does God look at us? With the gaze of love.” God is always offering us love and acceptance, unconditionally, without boundary or breaking point, like the sun offers light and heat – not because we have earned it but because God IS love; merciful love is the very essence of God’s being. Depending on our perception of God, we are either open or closed to this free gift. Basking in this loving gaze of God like a cat in the sun expands our own ability to love and accept others and to faithfully bring about the kingdom Jesus preached. Realizing God dream for our world is largely dependent on our openness to receive all that God wishes to give us, because we simply cannot give to others what we ourselves have not fully received.
Fr. Ron Rolheiser says “The God that Jesus reveals to us is a God of infinite abundance. Inside God there is no scarcity, no stinginess, no sparing of mercy… God’s love and mercy are limitlessness.” Our main job in this life – sometimes called the “school of love” – is simply to muster up the courage to accept this unconditional acceptance (Paul Tillich). Sadly, sometimes, given the image of God we inherited, this is no small bit of work on our part, but rather is a real leap of faith. May we have the courage to jump into God’s welcoming arms, this day and every day, and bask together in God’s loving gaze so we may offer that love abundantly to others.