It took us a long time to understand clouds because we could only see them from one perspective – the earth. But when I fly in a plane, I get an entirely different view. I see layers of all different sizes and shapes, as varied from each other as the species of trees are on the ground. They appear to be solid, as if one could bounce on these soft, cottony masses or fall asleep cushioned on a billowy blanket.
As we gained sight and perspective on these layers and types of clouds, we learned that despite appearances, they are not solid at all. We began to classify them, understand the conditions under which they occur, and see how they interact with the weather patterns we experience across the globe. (We also learned the turbulence it causes when a plane flies through them!) I can no longer look at clouds from the ground in the same way, knowing there is depth, substance, and a well-coordinated cascade of meteorological activity within them. My old view had to die in order to accept this new and more accurate reality.
With so many things in our world, we think they are one way because our sight is limited. As we discover more, we have to stretch our understanding, let our old views die, and adapt to ever-new realities. Too often we don’t allow that same process to occur with God. Elijah, John the Baptist, and Jesus all called us to repent and turn to God. But to what God are we turning?
Although God cannot be contained, neatly defined, or explained in human terms, the Bible gives us many images of God, all predicated on the biblical writers’ “sight” at the time. The problem occurs when we get stuck on ideas of God that are based on century- or millennia-old perceptions and we cling to them ferociously, instead of recognizing that God is forever showing us new views and teaching us more about the depth, behavior, and impact of the divine Spirit and will. We say God is a mystery, but God is not a mystery because we simply can’t understand. Rather the mystery of God is something we are constantly understanding better, even as we realize that we will never have the whole picture in this life.
Certainly, any view we have of God has to include the Incarnation. When Jesus came, at last we were literally able to “see” God. He gave us a glimpse of the view from the divine side and opened endless depth, showing us a God of love, inclusion, compassion, creativity, forgiveness, and faithfulness. But many people of his day didn’t “see”. They refused to let their traditional laws and images of God die, to the extent that they killed the messenger who challenged them. Even the disciples interpreted what Jesus said in light of what they knew, what they could see, and what they already believed to be true. Jesus was correcting them up to and including his dying breath.
I believe that if Jesus were walking on the earth right now, he would still be correcting us. He would teach us to put to death all views of a judgmental, exclusive, narrow-minded God whose love we have to somehow earn and who is waiting with bated breath to condemn us to eternal hellfire. He would tell us to stop dividing the world into good guys and bad guys (always counting ourselves on the “good” end, of course) and instead work for a better world for everyone. He would point out that God created, formed, knows, and loves each and every person in all the diversity of humanity, and longs to draw us all into the divine embrace together. And he would remind us that we are “God with skin on” to the world – the face, hands, eyes, and hearts that embody the mystery of God so all may see and better understand.
As we approach the celebration of the Incarnation, I need to do a better job ensuring that I am not blocking the sight of others who are looking for God. What image of God do I convey in my words, my eyes and facial expressions, my attitudes and beliefs, and my actions? To what extent do those I encounter on the street, in the store, and wherever I go see judgment, narrow-mindedness, exclusion, and condemnation? To what extent do they see acceptance, unconditional love, forgiveness, and a glimpse of the infinite God? What do I need to let die in myself in order to more fully birth Christ?
Come Lord Jesus. Help me be an instrument of sight, committed to making the world a better and more just place, and being a window enabling everyone I encounter to know more of the mystery of God.
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.corgenius.com/.