Who is God?

I really wasn’t looking to start this by arguing with the central prayer of Christianity, the one given us by Jesus through the Gospels. But just this week it was pointed out to me that the Lord’s Prayer begins like this:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

I am not out to say that comparing God to a king or a patriarchal father or a distant resident of another reality is bad in itself. I recently heard Walter Brueggeman talk about how the many, many metaphors and images for God we find in the poetry of the prophets is important in dealing with such a complex transcendent figure. And I have friends who draw great comfort to those images of God-as-ruler, God-as-warrior, God-as-boss. Who am I to say that they – and Jesus – are wrong?

But when we think of God that way, we put first God’s power and sovereignty and second God’s mercy and love. I don’t think that serves everyone well, because it runs us quickly into some pretty tough questions, like “If God is in charge, why do such bad things happen?”

Saint Pope John Paul II, of all people, gives us another image to start with: God as lover. In his lectures on the “Theology of the Body,” he pointed to the sacrament of marriage – to conjugal love – as the purest and most uniquely correct analogue to who God is. The mystery of the Trinity, in which God is one god in three persons, points to God’s essence at loving, relational, so much so that the love of the Triune God within Godself overflows into the creation of, well, Creation.  So it is with the sacrament of marriage, in which the self-giving love of husband and wife overflow into the creation of new life and the next generation.

It is really, really hard to change default settings. Because we think of God through the images of Father, King, Warrior, even when we hear St. John Paul II posit that love is the heart of who God is, we struggle to change the settings on our image of God. But let’s try as an exercise to put God as loving marriage first as an image and see where it takes us.

Why does it matter? Because we create our image of who we ought to be in response to who God is. When God is a ruler, we are restricted to the choices of humans as servants or humans as lieutenants or humans as rebels. There are elements of truth in these, but either way, we have grounded our reality in the framework of power, and that’s the wrong framework.

If God is first and foremost divine Lover, than our options are different. We are Beloved. We are fellow Lovers. Or we are those who spurn the Lover. Or combinations of those. When we think about God, humanity, and the world around us with that as our central hermeneutic, we have new questions and new ways to answer old questions.

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