Last week our One Day at a Time class considered the second step along the journey toward wholeness, that we “came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
While the AA tradition leaves the nature of God open to the person seeking transformation, we believe at Christians in the United Methodist tradition of a Triune God, the one who created us (Father), the one who redeems us (Son), and the one who sustains us (Spirit). We believe that God as revealed in Jesus Christ is the power who can restore us to “sanity.” (read Hudson’s One Day at a Time to unpack our “insanity.”
And yet, while we may be able to proclaim those words, the images we have in our head about just who God is can seriously limit our ability to move toward being changed. You see, we all carry around pictures in our mind about God . . . pictures that can be both positive and negative. Is God a big and scary God with a long white beard and his finger on the button ready to zap those who are disobedient, or is God like the prodigal father, running down the road to embrace the lost child with extravagant abandon?
It just so happened that before our class met last week, I had gone with the youth group to see the movie version of The Shack. I remember 10 years ago when the book was first released the scandal proclaimed by some that God was portrayed as an African American woman, and there are some today that likewise find it problematic (although I have to say, Octavia Spencer seems like a pretty cool God to me!). The reason, explained in the movie, is that for Mac (the main character in the movie who was a victim of child abuse) a male father image is not helpful to understanding a loving God. And so, “papa” has a face that will allow Mac to experience grace rather than walk in fear.
Unfortunately many in the world today carry images of God with them that are more about judgment and fear than about love and grace. Again and again I hear people suggest that they are not worth of redemption. Again and again I hear folks suggest that they have to “get their act together” before they can believe and experience the love of God. For many, repentance (turning in a different direction) and transformation is far away not because God isn’t willing to change us, but because we don’t fully trust that God WANTS to change us. While we may have memorized the words of John 3:16 we’re not really sure we believe that God so loves the world.
In our United Methodist tradition, one of the core beliefs (proclaimed in our foundational documents) is that “all persons are of sacred worth.” What we mean by that is that God loves all . . . period. We hold fast to the words of the Apostle Paul that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God. This has nothing to do with our worthiness (Paul also says that we all have fallen short of God’s desires for us), but rather is a complete affirmation that no matter who you are, what you have done, or what you are thinking, God loves you. Love is at the core of all we believe and all we do. And when we can hold that in our hearts, the power of that love and totally make us new.
So friends, if you are carrying around images of an angry God who is waiting to zap you when you do wrong, cast them aside. If you think that God dislikes you or that you have done things that God can never forgive, let go of those thoughts. If you aren’t quite sure that God is willing to change you, think again.
You see, we believe in a God who loves us so much that if we make the slightest move toward him, he runs to us.
Don’t ever forget it.