An Intimate and Personal Gaze
A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean.” Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. Mark 1:40-42
The portrayals of God in the Old Testament are largely impersonal. Readers can come away with an image of God as distant from, inaccessible to, and unapproachable by the majority of humanity. Personal relationships with God seemed to be reserved for a select few. It is a familiar structure because many churches give the same impression with their organizational hierarchies. The pastors, bishops, and cardinals are often assumed to be more connected to God than others are. Although most of these people receive formal training about the Bible, God, and matters of the church, their relationship to and with God is no more exclusive than that for anyone else.
Unlike the God of the Old Testament, God in Jesus communed intimately with many different individuals on a very personal level – not just the upper class, the religious elite, or the societal leaders, but with regular, everyday, run-of-the-mill folks like you and me, including many considered undesirable by society. The Gospels are full of stories of masses of individuals seeking out Jesus for healing, and he willingly accommodated as many as possible. In the passage from Mark above, a person with leprosy approaches Jesus and acknowledges that Jesus has the power to make him clean, if Jesus so chooses. Jesus does choose and frees the person from his disease.
There was a significant event documented in Matthew (27:51) and Luke (23:45) as Jesus died on the cross that symbolizes God’s personal openness to us. The curtain of the Temple, whose sole purpose was to keep the worshipers separate from their impersonal God, was torn in two. This tearing of the curtain symbolized the removal of a barrier to our direct access to God. This was one of the messages of Jesus – that God is the God of all of us, individually and collectively, and that God is accessible to everyone.
Many of us are reluctant to believe in a personal God. It defies logic. Indeed, I believe we miss the personal nature of God because we tend to learn about God in our head instead of experiencing God in our heart. Intellectual knowledge about anything does not lead to a deeply personal experience. Further, since we can only know God by faith, some find belief in a familiar God a leap too far. We feel unworthy, or we believe God is too big, too busy, or too important to care about us in our individual quirkiness. God came to earth in Jesus, though, precisely to be in direct relationship with individuals. Although the person of Jesus died 2000 years ago, that personal face of God remains connected to us through the Spirit whether or not we are aware of it. What is hard to accept, what seems too good to be true is that God knows and loves us in our entire individual idiosyncrasy. Those who are parents love their children for their unique traits, even when they disappoint or annoy us. Why would we expect less from a divine parent?
The personal nature of God is important. We know from our other relationships that it is difficult to dislike a person we know well. Once we get to know a person, once there is a trusted, mutual vulnerability between us, we cannot help but appreciate who they are, where they have been in life, and their hopes and dreams for the future. Indeed, knowing someone in much of their specificity is a prerequisite to deeply loving them. It seems to follow, then, that for God to love us, God must know us in a detailed and specific way. That love is the source of our inestimable worth, for if God knows us in all our particulars and still loves us, who else’s opinion could possibly decrease that value? When we seek the face of God with our heart, an intimate and personal gaze gazes back.
Note: this is the 24th in a series of Life Notes on the Faces of God.