Who is God?
Many decades ago as a young Christian the Bible seemed to first come so alive for me I could not but mark up significant verses. I wanted to hear God speaking to me about who God is, who I am from God's perspective, and how God calls me to relate to those around me. I was just then beginning to discover there is a profound inter-relatedness between my understanding of myself and my understanding of God, that would continue in subsequent decades to reshape how I understand God and myself. John Calvin opened his Institutes of the Christian Religion stating, "without knowledge of self, there is no knowledge of God" and conversely "without knowledge of God, there is no knowledge of self."
As I read the parables in the lectionary texts of Matthew, Chapter 25 these past few weeks, this attentiveness to how we understand God popped up again for me when a commentator asked readers to examine how they understand God because it affects how we live. If God is harsh and judging, are we? If God is silent about egregious evils, are we? If God is loving and just, are we? If God forgives, do we? Who does God favor, who do we favor? How we understand God can very well shape each moment of our lives, how we treat others, and what acts we believe acceptable and unacceptable.
We men of every culture and race have too often abused women. Parents, perhaps victims of abuse and neglect, sometimes continue the abuse or neglect with their children and partners. We co-exist among Americans who fail to see the way race and privilege has perpetuated societal divisions, hatreds, and social policies. Is no one distraught by national leaders that do not admit mistakes or take responsibility for egregious actions, even as they proclaim their faith in God? Closer to home, I have sat in church and presbytery meetings and committees that blame and shame persons. And with myriad guns in this country, too many intentionally or without any ability to restrain themselves fire onto unarmed individuals, crowds, and into houses of worship, forgetting that command of God "thou shalt not kill."
And a sighing God knows and sees all this-and still comes to us to speak and be with us that we might yet better understand ourselves and our need for the transformative power of God known to many psalmists.
Happy are the ones whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord who made heaven and earth... who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord love the righteous; the Lord watches over the sojourners, the Lord upholds the widow and the fatherless; but the way of the wicked the Lord brings to ruin. (Psalm 146.5-9)
There is this profound inter-relatedness between our understanding of God and our understanding about ourselves. I hope you know this in your experience of yourself and God.
In the spirit of the psalmist, I give thanks for many examples I have witnessed: Hearing from those at Church of the Gethsemane once incarcerated now showing their care for others in difficult predicaments. Visiting Home Boy Industries in Los Angeles where former gang members set out to harm the other, work side by side through the compassionate ministry a priest started to provide jobs instead of jail, drugs, and further street violence. Listening to a pastor transform a formerly dormant Presbyterian congregation to one engaged with its neighborhood and providing skills to youth in music and video production. Watching a toddler clap and move to the beat of the music while musicians at Not So Churchy drew us into meditative reflection on biblical texts and the questions they call out from us. Those bowed down with grief with the death of Adolfo Griffith being lifted by the presence of so many to celebrate his life and homegoing at St. Albans Church. The ongoing efforts some of our churches make 365 nights a year providing supportive housing for the homeless on this City's streets. And the meals many will receive from your churches at Thanksgiving because you want to feed the hungry. Why all this? Because of something many understand about who God is, what God has done for you, and what you believe God calls you into with your neighbors. I give thanks with a grateful heart.
I pray you also might give thanks with grateful heart, if not for what God has done for you then for what someone captured by their love for and hope in God will do for and with you. Meister Eckhart once said, "If the only prayer we say in our entire life is thanks, it is enough."