21. The God Who Meets Us

We “come alive” to who we really are by knowing how much we mean to God. How much we mean to God is revealed above all in Jesus’ life, from the manger in Bethlehem to his death on the cross. Our sense of who we really are and why we matter is linked to Christ.

Sometimes the Hebrew prophets used the image of a mother to emphasise God’s closeness to us and care for us:

Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Yet even should she forget, still will I not forget you. (Isaiah 49:15)

As nurslings, you shall be carried in her arms and fondled in her lap; As a mother comforts her son, so will I comfort you. (Isaiah 66:12-13)

The good experiences of life help us to enjoy the gift. But sometimes it is the painful experiences that remind us that life is a gift.

But the real wonder of God’s love, and therefore the wonder of ourselves, is in the fact that God’s love was never owed to us. Sometimes it can seem to us as it did to Jesus, that God does not hear us. Aloud and in silent tears we pray to the One who has the power to make things different, but seems not to do so. We can mistakenly interpret this as God’s “absence,” when, in fact, it can be the experience of God’s closeness. It is a moment of re-discovering that God, who has promised to be with us always, can only be close to us as the One whose presence is not owed to us, not “required” by us.

What Moses discovered in his mystical experience of God’s presence (Exodus 3) is central to the Jewish and Christian understanding of God, and it shows what the Jewish and Christian Scriptures mean by the name “Lord.”

Yahweh is not ... a God whose function is to respond to our religious needs and satisfy our spiritual aspirations ... Yahweh does not intervene in history or enter the human situation as if he were in any way required by history or by the situation. God comes down to us in our misery always as he came down to Moses in Midian, “to the westward part of the desert.” He comes down with all the mystery that attaches to the concept of freedom when freedom is stretched to infinity ...

Precisely in the mysterious freedom of his presence Yahweh is manifested as the Lord, the one Lord of his own action, who does not abide man’s questions because he stands beyond all questioning. In giving himself the name Yahweh, God forestalls the question that is somehow native to the heart of man, “why are you here?” or, in its more usual form, “why are you not here?” The answer, which refuses the question in both its forms, is: “I shall be there as who I am.”

(John Courtney Murray, The Problem of God)

Unlike the deities that natural religion tries to appease or win over to human agendas, and unlike the cosmic energy of New Age religion, the God revealed in history is not there for our purposes or for our convenience - if and when it suits us. The journey into reality involves shedding all such illusions. The reality is a God whose love is all the more wonderful because it involves God’s free choice.

This is also why prayer is not about trying to win God over or persuade God to look kindly on us. The kindness of God isn’t really the problem:

Since God did not spare his own Son but gave him up for the benefit of us all, we may be certain, after such a gift, that God will not refuse anything he can give. (Romans 8:32)

Friendship, on the other hand, takes two. Friends talk to each other. When we talk with God about our needs, we open ourselves to God’s love, to wanting what God wants for us, and to moving further into the heart of the journey.

Experiencing the pain of God’s seeming absence at times is part of coming closer to a God whose closeness cannot be demanded by us. Children who are taken to visit the poor, the lonely, the sick, and dying as well as taken to see the sunsets and the daffodils, will have a better start on the journey into reality than children who are shown only the delights. The good experiences of life help us to enjoy the gift. But sometimes it’s the painful experiences that remind us that life is a gift.

For Practice

Ponder the mystery of God’s extraordinary love, which is not owed to us in the first place, yet reaches into the depths and details of human history, reaching each of us personally, always forgiving.

For Prayer

As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on the faithful.
For he knows of what we are made,
remembers that we are dust.
Our days are like grass:
like flowers of the field we blossom,
the wind sweeps over us and we are gone,
our place knows us no more.
But the Lord’s kindness is forever.

Psalm 103:13-17

ALL OUR IDEAS OR CONCEPTS depend on our experience of created things, and so they are simply incapable of describing the One who is not a creature! God is always greater than human understanding. This is why the Scriptures use mainly images, likening God to a shepherd, a mother, a father, a potter, eagle's wings, a rock, a midwife, a lover, and many others.

Images nurture our faith better than ideas can. But they also need to be modified, broadened, and deepened as we pass from childhood faith to adult faith. Sometimes our disappointments come about because we have been depending too much on an image that was too limited. It is the image that has let us down, not God. So it is the image that needs to expand. It needs to be big enough to allow even for what happened on Good Friday.