Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘God’

The Kingdom of Heaven is Like…

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”     Matthew 13:31-32

Jesus’ initial instruction to us is to repent, or to change the direction of our life. The purpose of repentance is to enter the kingdom of heaven. The next logical question is, “What is the kingdom of heaven like?” The image I received from my childhood was that heaven was somewhere up in the sky where there were many long-dead relatives, along with angels playing harps while floating on clouds. It made me think of family reunions as a child, minus the angels, and it was hardly a compelling image for me at the time. The thought of spending an eternity there made me wonder about my other options.

Jesus paints a completely different picture of heaven, however. In Matthew 13, he tells a number of parables about the kingdom. In 13:18-23 he compares a planter sowing seeds in different types of soil to different people hearing the word of the kingdom. Some will receive the message as a seed sown in fertile soil and enter the kingdom. In the parable quoted above, Jesus compares the kingdom to a tiny mustard seed that grows into a tree. In 13:33, he compares the kingdom to yeast added to flour. In 13:44, he compares heaven to “treasure hidden in a field”; in 13:45, the kingdom is like a “pearl of great value.” In 13:47, he compares it to a “net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind.” An obvious question is this: “What do these analogies tell us about the kingdom of God?”

My first observation is that the kingdom of God is not a static point or place in time. In the parables of the sower, the mustard seed, and the leaven, the example used is something that is grown into over time. Like a plant growing to maturity, the kingdom dweller is dynamic, forever changing, and evolving into new versions of itself. Patience is necessary.

A second observation is that the kingdom is a life-multiplier. Particularly in the yeast parable, but also in the seed parables, the analogy indicates that accessing the kingdom enhances whatever is happening in life in positive ways. Without yeast, bread may still be bread, but it will not rise or be nearly as tasty as it would otherwise be. Without yeast, bread is also left sterile, meaning it cannot generate additional loaves of bread from itself. This is further illustrated in the parable of the sower when the seed is sown on fertile soil and the seed multiplies. Likewise, in the story of the net, this kingdom net catches many fish of every kind and size. The kingdom of heaven, like yeast, soil, and a good fishing net, improves the state of, bounty from, and diversity in our lives.

A third observation is that the kingdom, once experienced, becomes the most valuable part of our lives. In the parables of the pearl of great value and the hidden treasure, the possessors of the pearl and treasure give up everything else in order to attain this one treasure. Their sole focus becomes the kingdom.

Finally, the kingdom of God is about the here and now. It is not some faraway place up in the clouds. Jesus uses everyday examples and explains the impact of the kingdom on regular, daily activities. It under girds and supports our lives, just as the mustard seed transforms into a tree and provides shelter for birds.

Entering the kingdom means experiencing our world in a new way. It does not necessarily change our profession, our health, our finances, or any of the material particulars of our lives. What it changes is our perspective, assuring us of a larger, beneficent life surrounding us, and that can lead to astronomical changes in the life we experience going forward. Far from being a family-reunion-in-the-sky, the kingdom is about our lives today! It takes the life we have and makes it joyful, richer, more productive, more loving, and more fulfilling. The kingdom of God is not a place we go, but a unity we become as we learn to see others through and to be seen by the unfathomably loving gaze of God.

This is the 4th in a series of Life Notes entitled “What Did Jesus Say?”

Read Full Post »

A Sorry God

The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. Genesis 6:5-6

Some people believe the story of Noah’s Ark to be historically accurate, meaning that the events happened as described in Genesis. Others believe the story is mythical, meaning it is not factually correct, but rather was written to teach the reader something about God and God’s relationship to man. While I respect both views, I am most interested in the Noah’s Ark account for what it teaches about God, more so than what it may teach about history.

As the story goes, God looks over his early creation and sees corruption and wickedness. Humankind is behaving in a way that makes God sorry for creating them. God decides to destroy all living things, except for Noah and his family. From them, the human race will then be regenerated. Noah is to gather pairs of every other living thing, build a huge ark to preserve this cross-section of creation, and prepare for a flood of enormous proportion.

To consider that God might be sorry for something God created is inconsistent with the way I was taught to understand God. According to the story of Noah’s Ark, the depravity displayed by human beings toward each other and toward the rest of creation seemed to catch God by surprise. While the Bible does not explicitly say that God made a mistake, the story certainly makes it sound like that is the way God saw the earlier creation. For me, the fact that humanity’s corruption and wickedness made God sorrowful is an indication of how intimately God is involved in and cares about this creation. If that were not the case, why would God be sorry?

God did not introduce corruption and violence into our world – we did. Yet, because God experiences creation through us, corruption and violence break God’s heart along with ours. Wickedness is a creation of the human mind, not God’s, and yet God is victimized by it every bit as much as we are. The pinnacle of human depravity in the Bible is the crucifixion of Jesus, where humanity applies its cruelest techniques of torture to maim, humiliate, and kill the One who came to display and model divine love in human form for us.

I think there are at least three lessons we can take from the story of Noah’s Ark. First, God suffers with us in our suffering, and God is involved with us in relieving that suffering. Second, just as God saw something worth saving in Noah’s family, so God sees something of value in each of us, something worth salvaging, and something that can be used to further God’s work on earth. No matter how far we have fallen, how corrupted we feel, or how badly we have messed up our lives or the lives of others, God can and will redeem us. Finally, perhaps God is not all-knowing in the way we usually assume. Perhaps even God cannot predict the depths to which our free will can sink us. What we do know about God, based on Romans 8:28, is that God can and will make all things work together for good for those who believe. God needs on our help and cooperation, however, to build the Ark that will lead us out of whatever swamp we find ourselves in.

Note: this is the sixth in a series of Life Notes on the Faces of God

Read Full Post »

A Beingless Being

But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” Exodus 3:13-14a

It may seem odd to discuss God as a beingless being in a series about the Faces of God. The following will sound more like a discussion of a faceless God. In fact, that is exactly what I intend to convey. The reader will have to wade through the obscure language, as I know of no other way to communicate this foundational, undefinable aspect of God.

A being implies someone who can be known, described, and even predicted, at least to an extent. Human beings can be known, at least to a degree that is usually comfortable. Even though human beings are created in the image of God, the opposite cannot be completely true. The only place where we know God is created in the image of human beings in the minds of humans; and that God is but the limited image of a limitless being. God, as Spirit, enters and animates all living creatures, including us. Father Richard Rohr, in his daily devotion for April 2, 2017, writes, “Spirit is forever captured in matter, and matter is the place where Spirit shows itself.” God has no visible, tangible, physical being except in and through God’s creation. In the book of Exodus, God speaks to Moses through a burning bush on top of a mountain. The people below see only dark clouds and lightening and hear only thunder. When Moses asks for God’s name to share with the Israelites, God says, “I am who I am.” The Israelites wanted to know God as a being like themselves, but God refused to be known in such a limited way.

All attempts to know or name God ultimately fall short, because once we have given something a name or description, we have limited its being. While we are more comfortable with that which we can describe, God resists confinement to any limited form. God assumes an infinite number of faces. Indeed, this series of Life Notes is exploring some of the ways God manifests to us. None of these faces exposes the entirety of God, but all of them provide glimpses into God’s unfathomable nature. Above all, God is mysterious. Thus, God is a beingless being – God cannot be known as we know another person, the trees of the forest, or the ingredients for our favorite casserole. In this sense, God remains distant from our conscious understanding. Yet, God lives and experiences through us, so God is also closer than our next breath. When we look at the infinite variety and diversity in nature, and when we understand that God expresses in every part of creation, we begin to imagine the incomprehensible vastness of God’s beingless being.

God is a God of endless possibilities, not an unchangeable rock. Even rocks change over time. Even mountains crumble. Rivers change course. Our limited experience of time makes some things of the earth appear eternal, but that is simply not true in the context of eternity. If there is a constant quality to God, it is that God is constantly changing, shifting, and forever creating new tapestries of being. God shepherds all of creation through the on-going process of birth, growth, death, and rebirth, ever transforming everything into something new. Being less; being more; simply being.

God will be what God will be.

Note: this is the fifth in a series of Life Notes on the Faces of God

Read Full Post »

A Plural God

 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness;”

Genesis 1:26a

The image of God as a stern, bearded, all-powerful, white man is primarily an invention of the West. Certainly, there are biblical references to this fearsome, limited image of God, but when considering the references to God in their totality, it is not a very accurate picture. The name generally translated as God in the Bible is Elohim; the name translated as Lord in the Bible is Adonai. These are the two most common scriptural designations for God, and both are plural nouns in their original Hebrew. The plurality of the names has been lost in translation, as witnessed by our common understanding of God and Lord as singular beings. Some other references are feminine. The point is that God expresses in a number of different ways and is not confined to any of them.

It should not be surprising that our One God manifests in a plurality of ways. It is true of much of creation, including us. I am a father, husband, co-worker, brother, and friend. In each of these roles, I express myself differently, even though each is a unique expression of one being. Intelligence is not a single aspect, but is a combination of intellectual, emotional, and instinctual intelligences, each expressing in unique ways and providing distinct perspectives to a single body of knowledge. There are numerous phases to each day: sunrise, morning, noon, evening, sunset, and night. All are discrete parts of one day.

The first biblical hint that God is a plurality occurs in Genesis 1:26, where it is written, “Then God said, Let us make humankind in our image.” The writing is distinctly and unmistakably plural. The question, then, is if God is One, as many of us believe, who are the others? This question is often reconciled by the religious doctrine of the Trinity – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In short, the Trinity names the three persons, or personas, or faces of the One God. I will address the Trinity later in this series, so that is all I will say at this point, except that God appears to manifest in multiple ways, always in relation to other expressions of God or parts of creation. Whether we believe God expresses in one, three, or many ways, it is clear to me that our One God has many faces.

The observation that God has many faces is encouraging. If our God is all-inclusive and if we are all created in God’s likeness, then the being of God must include the infinite variations among all of us: all colors, all cultures, all genders, all ages, all beliefs. That is good news for those who feel excluded from, unworthy of, or otherwise unable to access the all-inclusive love of God. In the Genesis creation story, God looks over the whole of creation and sees that it is good. We, on the other hand, look over the whole of creation and label some good and some not-so-good, some righteous and some evil, some like us and some not like us. We cannot begin to know and experience the depth of God’s love for us until we learn to see God’s creation as God sees it: wonderful and beautiful in all its awesome and infinite diversity. We are an inseparable part of one world expressing in countless ways, just like the image and likeness of the One God from whom we and all creation flow.

Our One God expresses in a plurality of ways.

Note: this is the third in a series of Life Notes on the Faces of God.

Read Full Post »

The Faces of God: The Creative Voice

 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.

Genesis 1:3

Many years ago, I saw an opera singer break a wine glass by holding a certain note. She sang a high, loud, sustained tone, and the glass shattered. Not an opera fan at the time, I thought maybe the glass opted to disintegrate on the spot rather than subject itself to that sound. I have since realized that the vibration of the note was incompatible with the structure of the glass. Similarly, I remember reading that marching armies had to stop marching in time whenever crossing a bridge to prevent the bridge from swaying uncontrollably. The vibration and power of the march could force the bridge into a destructive rhythm. Everything on earth vibrates in a certain range, and when an incompatible vibration works upon it, either the impending vibration or the object itself must change. Most vibrations around us are outside of our conscious, perceptual range. We tend to ignore their presence and power, at least until we experience or see the results of an otherwise invisible wave, such as the impact of an earthquake.

We do consciously experience vibration in music, however. A string player plucks or bows a string, causing it to vibrate at a certain pitch. That vibration transfers to the wood, creating an audible sound. We speak and sing by forcing air across our vocal chords, causing them to vibrate in an audible way. When multiple notes vibrate in harmonious ways, we hear chords. When one of the notes is dissonant in relation to the others, we hear musical chaos. Our experiences around other people are similar. With some folks, we vibrate in harmony, and we enjoy their company and get along well. With others, we feel as if our relational energies are consistently incompatible.

It is interesting that the Bible describes God as speaking creation into being. “Then God said, let there be…” I picture an enormous wave of energy emanating from God, forming the shapeless earth into what has become the world we know today. I suppose one could also accurately call it a Big Bang. To imagine a sound wave forming elements into something cohesive, we only need to watch the demonstrations of sound waves applied to sand. We see the malleable material form into designs consistent with the vibration applied, changing shape with changes to the creating tone. We experience this, to a degree, when a car pulls up beside us with a bass-thumping stereo. The vibration of the low frequencies penetrates our bodies such that we feel the sound pulsating through us as much or more than we hear it.

One of the faces of God is a creative voice vibrating through and around us, ever forming, ever healing, ever destroying and rebuilding, ever dying and being reborn. We live and move and have our being in an ongoing song of creation endlessly emanating from the being of God. All of creation dances to the rhythm, seldom conscious of its divine existence or nature. When we dance in tune with the celestial beat, we experience heaven on earth wherever we are. When we fall out of time, we descend into a hell of our own making, a world of sin and separation. Fortunately for us, the invitation to rejoin the dance is always near, only a slight vibrational adjustment away.

The face of God is speaking. Can you feel it?

Read Full Post »

Life Notes

Love Never Ends

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. 

1 Corinthians 13:4-8a

The last of the specific characteristics of love, as described by Paul, is that love never ends. Love is eternal. It existed before we were born, and love will continue beyond our individual lives. This endless flow of love allows us to participate as individuals during our life on earth – or not – but the flow does not go or stop depending on our participation. Love endures, which is an expression of its flowing and eternal nature. Just because an object of our love moves on to another lover or to another stage of life does not mean that love has ended, only that one particular expression of love has taken another shape – painful as that can be.

As we explore Paul’s writings about love in the 13th Chapter of 1 Corinthians, it becomes increasingly clear that love permeates every aspect of our being. Love animates every part of creation. Because God is love, love is ever-present, everywhere, always and forever. Too often, we limit love to an emotional expression we feel and share with a limited subset of people. In reality, how we love any one person is how we love everyone. Love is a state of being with, not a transient state of feeling.

Least it seem I am making love out to be cold and impersonal, let me emphatically state that love is intensely personal. Love recognizes and celebrates our individual natures – but true, lasting love is a celebration in communion with others. It is not so much that we are not special and unique creations in and of ourselves, but so is everyone else! We are special and lovable in relation to and with others. Remember, love requires relationship; it is not a reward for individuality. When we do not feel the love around us, it does not mean we do not live surrounded by love. It only means we are not in a state of being to recognize or accept it. Sometimes our lives become so distracted by our busy-ness or by our self-centered distractedness that there is no room left for love to penetrate. We seek love in the wrong places, or our understanding of love is too limited to perceive it. Love is always expansive in nature, seeking to include more of others and of ourselves.

Love never ends, just as God never ends. Our individual lives will end, but our loving relationships continue to impact generations after us. I believe, at physical death, our soul enters this eternal flow of love that we only sense dimly from earth. It is a blessing to be participative co-creators in the river of love that is always and ever available to us.

Let us make 2016 the year of love, as love was meant to be.

Read Full Post »

Life Notes

Love Is…

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8a

Love will be the theme for Life Notes in the coming weeks. I will use Paul’s familiar words from 1 Corinthians 13 as an outline. In these 4 verses, Paul lists 8 characteristics of love, and 8 traits that do not characterize love. Love is not something we achieve on our own; rather, it manifests in relationship to and with others. Most importantly, love originates in God.

To introduce the theme, however, I want to back up to the verses preceding the ones quoted above. To begin chapter 13 Paul writes, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” I can identify a number “noisy gongs” and “clanging cymbals” in my life (too often, one stares back at me in the mirror). Paul continues, “And if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith, so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” Finally, in verse 3, “If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” Paul’s message, clearly, is that nothing we do or accomplish – in 2016 or ever – will amount to anything worthwhile if love does not motivate it. It does not matter what we learn, what heights we attain, or what we give away. If love is not at the heart of whatever we do, it will ultimately mean nothing. It makes sense, then to begin the new year with a study of what love is and what love is not.

We tend to define love in a too-restrictive manner. The traditional Chinese character for love, Ai, according to Wikipedia, contains the symbol for a heart surrounded by acceptance. Love is described as a graceful emotion. It can be interpreted as “a hand offering one’s heart to another hand.” Many languages have several words that represent different manifestations of what we, in English, lump into the word love. It is a common mistake to limit the broad, inclusive reality of love to only one of its manifestations – romantic love. Because many of us are disillusioned by romantic love one or more times in our lives, we may avoid a serious consideration of the sheer practicality and breadth of love. Understanding what love is and what love is not, we learn to live better – not just for others, but for ourselves. We are happier, freer, and richer by living a life in love than in any other way.

My song, Love Never Ends, can be heard at www.ContemplatingGrace.com. Go to the “Music” page, to “Finding Grace in an Imperfect World,” to “Love Never Ends.”

Let us make 2016 the year of love, as love was meant to be.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »