We’ve made it convenient to dehumanize one another because truly knowing someone has become obsolete in the world we’ve made. Divides form in society when nobody wants to listen. We’re too busy fighting to have the first and last word. Seeing this disconnect in relationships only makes it natural to do so with God.
God is…a Person. It’s hard to remember when we’ve forgotten what a person is.
Being a Person means to love. Even though God’s love may look different than anything we’ve grown accustomed to (abusive fathers, superficial marriages, backstabbing friends), it’s nevertheless the core of Christianity.
To call the Creator a Lover is a devious marketing tool, but Christianity has drawn many to follow Jesus from what can only be described of as a wooing. God is said to love us more than anyone else because he is far above everyone else and yet closer to us than anyone else (Lewis, The Problem of Pain). To think that such a colossal-intimate love exists is preposterous (how can it be known?), and to say it does is beyond reason (where’s the proof?), but to live like it does is the true miracle, and this miracle is found in millions around the world who could never find the words to describe the life change of knowing Jesus.
Christians believe that the colossal-intimate love is real, so why do we spend so little time portraying God as a Person? There’s a real danger in apologetics and theology because defending and dissecting the faith depends so much on human reasoning and intellect (the other end of the spectrum, those who adhere to the more mystical flavors of Christianity, is also fatal because it likewise makes God into something other than a Person). Jesus can be stripped of his humanity just as much as our spouses can be made into a tolerable roommate, which is why the mystery of who he is must never be cast aside, no matter how much we want to present God in a box.
To forget that a person walked, talked, wore sandals, ate, laughed, and died (and rose; it all started because of that) in the presence of the people who started this intolerable worldview is a grave error because it makes Christianity into a campaign to present and advertise. It’s the belief that this man is who he said he was and that his followers promulgated accurate depictions of his life and mission. It’s the belief that his love has been made known to us through those who knew him best.
To forget this is to forget Christianity.
The impetus of the early church has been lost somewhere in the tumult of church history, leaving most of us with a fractured image of a weak deity to keep alive for the sake of nostalgia. It’s a tragedy when many Christians find it acceptable to worship a pathetic mongrel of a god just because the true God is too hard to accept (no wonder so many leave the faith). We no longer think of God as he is because a Person like that makes us uncomfortable. The world we live in, many say, was not made by a “good Person” because a “good Person” would ________.
Whether we hate how God loves us or whether we hate how God is someone we must conform to or whether we hate how we can’t convince others about him (i.e., the God out of the box), we’re nevertheless uncomfortable with that God because he is wholly different than anything we think he should be.
So says the kid who insists the fourth candy bar is “good” for him. He pleads with his mom for it only to resent her because her denial, even though done in love, seems like the most malicious assailment against his “rights.”
How does a Lover like God wage war against his beloved if her defeat is truly the best thing for her? To say we “shouldn’t be defeated” is to ask for something less than our best–for God to give us anything besides our defeat is to betray his own love, leaving him less than God.
Have we forgotten that love is never cultivated by mere reason and intellect? We wouldn’t love God based on intellect any more than someone will entrust their kids with the local fraternity just because the fellas seem OK. When the Christian thinkers produce eloquent defenses, books and sermons about Christianity while ignoring God’s personality has done a great disservice to the worldview because it strips the weight of his love. Intellect is meant to reinforce and discover, not create adoration and love. We can follow Reason into believing God to be real, but trusting his love for us is another thing entirely.
Like a child who trusts that her parents have her best in mind when they ______, so we trust God when we don’t see the whole picture. We love him because we believe he loves us. Our intellect is meant to maintain the love we have; we can use reason to determine the ways God loves us, thus strengthening our love for him, but the love must be there in the first place.
The Personhood of God can be tricky because for most people it’s as unapproachable as someone you’ve never met. It’s why the Psalmist says, “taste and see” (Psa. 34:8); God is Someone to know, not just experience. It’s why the first of the “two greatest commandments” involve love for God (Matt. 22:36-40)–and not just nominal love but deep love, where the entire human engine, albeit enigmatic and confused, is focused like a laser on the Target. God wants to feel the heat of everything we are.
There are problems, though. Why wouldn’t God show his love so everyone would see, believe and love him? When it comes to love, the problems aren’t with God, even when he’s omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent. If God can’t make a square circle or tell a lie, then how can we expect him to make us love him? How can a wife make her unfaithful husband love her? How much “evidence” of her love will he require before he’s wooed by her?
If God were the most powerful king in the world, as the parable goes, how would he win the heart of a peasant woman he loves? He could never trust her to willfully love him if he came to her in all his royal garb, soldiers in tow; she could just “love” him out of fear. How would he know her true heart? Instead, he would need to be covert, disguised as a peasant, if he wanted a genuine response to his wooing. Yet even so, once her heart is won and he exposes his true self to her, would she still love him?
And so comes the real risk of love, being so vulnerable: the persistent rejection of the beloved even when everything has been done to win her heart. Christ “emptied himself” to redeem us, thus proving his love (Phil. 2:7), so how much more proof do we require?
The Bible, then, is one long attempt by human authors, who were said to be inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21), to show that God is an intentional Lover and has kept his promises and done everything in his power to redeem the unfaithful to him. Being God, his love would look far different than whatever we think it is.
Like a bear failing to see the love in the human who removes its foot from the trap, so we lash at God when he tells us that loving him requires trusting the mystery (yes, even when ________).
That’s why the Creator has to learn how to communicate his love to his creation (revelation), and their willingness to flee only makes it harder. He called twelve disciples to aid in this, and by most standards they’ve succeeded in promulgating this hesed (Hebrew term for God’s love). What matters to Christian thinkers in the 21st Century, then, is knowing how to handle the accounts they left for us. Christians, it’s not about knowledge, evidence or logic, but how much we trust God’s character; this is why we do what we do. Having begun in love, have we left it for something else? Forgetting this paves the road to nowhere, getting us lost in epistemology, philosophy and everything else humans like to play with.
As Jesus said, the harvest is plenty but the laborers are few. Regardless of whether people see “God” as a concept, nonentity or Person, everyone has an opinion about the Guy in the Sky, and everyone thinks the debate is worth the time (even when they don’t think such a being exists). Christian thinkers must put the hand to the plow (Luke 9:62), ignoring the temptation to make God fit into the box, because people will always want to investigate the Person of God.
The world screams for facts, evidence and proofs, which is all fine and well if you’re discussing whether someone committed a crime or not, but if that someone said they loved you, what sort of evidence would you require?
And even if there was enough evidence, would you love them back?
Let’s let the mystery speak. Let’s let God be the Person he is. It’s not up to us.
In addition to writing at A Clear Lens, Alex Aili (B.A. in Biblical Studies) writes short stories and offers his musings about God’s hand in the world at Covert God: Redemption in Shadows. He is a novelist-in-progress who lives in northern MN with his wife and two sons. He thrives on coffee, good pipe tobacco and longs walks in the woods. See what he’s up to on Twitter.