Image of God

I’ve been invited to give the morning Bible study at the summer sessions of our gathered religious body, which Quakers call Yearly Meeting.  There aren’t too many of us and they are all friends, so I shouldn’t worry about the opportunity.  I also believe that we have divine guidance available to us in a way that is discernible, and on good days I believe I have been led.  Yet I find myself all too often focused not on God’s love and care but on fears of my inadequacy.

What we believe (or don’t believe) about God and how we function in relation to God can be different.  A friend believed in God as loving, forgiving, and bringing us into peace.  But when invited to draw an image of God in relation to some concerns he was experiencing, he drew a person with a monkey on his shoulder dangling a key just out of reach.  This was a “God” who held the secret to peace but wasn’t willing to share it.  Instead “God” used the key to taunt him and make him frustrated.

What we believe (or don’t believe) certainly impacts us.  Another friend believes she is responsible to bring justice wherever she can.  She doesn’t believe in a God who acts in the world.  If there were such a God, she argues, there wouldn’t be so much pain and suffering.  So she works very diligently at doing good.

These limiting images of the Limitless—of which we are aware or not—leave us less able to see and less able to know the joy and love of God.  Being able to recognize these often-hidden images from which we function is a step toward the healing of our blindness.

Queries:

With what image of God did you grow up?  How has that changed (or not)?  What might blind you to a more life-giving image?

What would it take for your heart and mind to be prepared for an encounter with the limitless God?

Prayer:

“Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge” (Psalm 16:1)

For further reflection:

“Again the Lord called, ‘Samuel!’  And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, ‘Here I am; you called me.’  ‘My son,’ Eli said, ‘I did not call; go back and lie down.’  Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord:  The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.”  (See I Samuel 3: 1-10.)

“God gazed down from heaven upon all humanity/ to see whether there existed a person of understanding, / one who was searching for truth” (See Psalm 14).  [For this translation, see Pamela Greenberg, The Complete Psalms: The Book of Prayer Songs in a New Translation.]

Advertisement

Believe?

There is much in Christianity that causes people to think that what they believe is important—the liturgical recitation of a creed, the interpretation of verses such as John 3:16 (whoever believes in Jesus will have eternal life), and the current individualistic expression of the faith. Some stumble when it comes to believing in God; others, believing in doctrines such as the virgin birth and the resurrection; and others, believing in the value of the Bible. Many people interested in Quakerism pull away because they can’t fully believe in pacifism.

To focus on whether one believes this or that is to miss what the faith is about. It is about a relationship with God—Mystery, Guide, Inward Teacher, Love, Source of Life. This relationship is bigger than oneself and, by definition, cannot be fully comprehended.   Believing as we understand the word is a misleading approach because it is intellectual, heady, not of the heart.

Bible stories are about people who have encounters with the divine in relationship. They are not about people who believe certain things, which then connect them to God. I love the story in Luke 8 when Jesus is in the boat with the disciples and an intense storm comes up so that the boat is sinking. When Jesus calms the storm, the awed response of his disciples is “who is this who calms the wind and the waves?” Beliefs are not what the disciples are looking for. The truth of this story—and the stories of the virgin birth and the resurrection—comes through being revealed, not through a belief system and the scientific mind’s intellectual assent to the stories.

Faith is about seeing things, experiencing relationship, asking questions. To have faith is to make a choice to jump into a particular stream, to take on a story as one’s own, to ready oneself to learn from the Inward Teacher—and not other options. I have found that even if only 51% of me can make that leap, that will do. Consent to the journey, and then see what you will be taught.

Queries:

How have your beliefs changed over your lifetime?

In whom are you putting your heart and trust? What story can you recall about a time when you were taught by One not controlled by your own ideas?

Prayer:

Listen to music that touches your soul. Or take a walk in nature, gradually quieting inside, being fully present to what is around you.

For further reflection:

“Who is this . . .?” (See Luke 8: 22-25).

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight” (See Proverbs 3: 5-8).