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Friday, October 8, 2010

God's main attribute

If someone asked you, what is God's personality like, what would you say? What is God's main character quality? What really defines God?

When we do this with people, sometimes we say, "He's really funny," or "She's so caring," or "That person really has integrity." What would you say for God? The Bible lists off a lot of possibilities. God is holy. God is righteous, whatever that means. God is just. God is light. But far and away the most important character quality God has is love. God is love.

I'm part of a religious movement -- Lutheranism -- that was born in a university and strongly influenced by the Enlightenment. We like to reason, and we love our theology. So sometimes I get focused on the fact that God is truth. But I need to remember, if I'm not going to go way off track, that God is love. His love encompasses his justice (it's been said that justice is what love looks like in public) and his truth and all the rest. Even God's anger is part of his love. It's not an abusive anger or a self-centered anger like so much human anger -- rather, it's anger when we live outside what he knows is best for us, anger when he sees us willfully hurting ourselves rather than living in love with him.

And this is not some intellectualized "I have a deep affection for you, honestly," love. God is crazy passionate about you. He delights in you. He yearns to be intimately connected at a heart level with you. His greatest joy is when you turn to him.

So often we make God into an intellectual proposition, a cosmic referee or a spectacled grandfather who frowns behind his glasses. No, biblically speaking God loves to get down in the mud with his people, playing and working and loving with them. God is love.

That does not mean, as so many in our culture think today, that love is God. What this spin does is say that I get to define love, and then whatever I think love is, I project onto God. This is exceedingly dangerous, because my definition of love is faulty. And not everything that looks like love on the surface is really love. No, we must start with God. Get to know him. The best way to do this is to get to know Jesus, as the Bible says that Jesus is "the visible expression of the invisible God" as my friend Curt likes to remind me. (It's not original with him, it's Colossians 1:15). Get to know Jesus -- read the stories about him in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. See what was important to him, how he treated people, what he did with his time, what kind of advice he gave. Then realize that this is how God wants to be known -- not as a remote universe controller, but as a flesh-and-blood person as close as your elbow who can sit with you, talk with you, cry with you, die for you. Then, because he loves you, he'll stand up and say, "Come with me." And you start to follow and you realize you're leaving behind a bunch of things -- goals, dreams, priorities -- but you're also leaving behind a lot of garbage that Jesus has just set you free from. You realize that his calling you to follow is part of his love, because he knows that you are not designed to take charge of your own life, you're created to live in love with him and to follow him.

Then he takes one more remarkable step as you follow. He takes his essence, his heart, his spirit, and he puts it inside of you. So he's closer than your elbow; he's gotten inside your ribcage and into your heart, into your soul, not like some parasite but like a life-giving source of strength and comfort. When he puts his Spirit inside you, it's because he's crazy in love with you and wants to live united with you forever. I mean it -- forever. That's part of his promise. Someday, when your body wears out, you will live face to face with him and all this long-distance love affair you've been carrying on with him through this life will be consummated in seeing him face to face. And what's more, one day he will shut down this sin-stained earth and recreate creation the way it's supposed to be -- and his love will fill every atom of it. That will be a party that goes on and on through eternity, where people from every group on the earth are joined together by his love as it flows through them and in them and around them and above them and under them, from God to his people and back again.

He's love.

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