There’s no humanity without God, and no God without humanity

  • January 30, 2013

While the Lord is experienced in positive and negative ways, He is always love

A man’s heart cries out. For years, Jeff has tried to follow God, but hasn’t found his dearest dream: a woman he could love and be loved by, who wants God as the foundation of their marriage. Why the rejection? Isn’t God love? Isn’t this cruel?

Other Christians have experienced God as silent, steel, remote, distant, stingy, unyielding, ruthless, “the great vivisectionist.” At other times we know Him as tenderness, gentleness, beauty, life, creativity, kindness, compassion, intimate presence. Who is He really?

“You’ve got to learn to wrestle with God!” Our model is Jacob, who spent the night wrestling someone (Genesis 32). At dawn, Jacob’s adversary wounded him, blessed him and gave him his name, Israel. In the struggle with God, we may discover our true name, and our real self — wounds and all. At least by wrestling, we dare to show what’s going on inside us.

The Church helps us wrestle by giving us Lent. Ash Wednesday, Feb. 13, shows Lent is physical as well as spiritual: we mark our bodies with a reminder of mortality, we take on spiritual disciplines that affect us in the flesh. It’s total; we use everything we have and are to communicate with God.

In its early centuries, the Church wrestled with many questions about God, including this: how could there be any true communication, any meeting-point, between the real God and us? Wouldn’t humans be lost in God’s vastness or God somehow be made less by being grasped?

Wrestlers get so intertwined that they look almost like one person. They feel each other’s strengths and weaknesses, bodies and spirits. Could it be like that between us and God? Could Jeff, by not giving up but coming back and back with his question, be in true communication with the living God?

Among us humans, communication happens through electronic forms known as “social media.” These involve much self-presentation: showing photos and videos of ourselves, our friends, food or pets or silly moments; we write bits of news about what we were thinking just before breakfast; we put together montages revealing our thoughts and desires, without discrimination, the painful and the odd, the beautiful and delightful. It allows for creativity as well as self-exposure.

It’s as though people are holding their faces up to an invisible mirror. Through it, they see their own reflection and invite others to see it too. Like the ordinary, visible mirror, this sort of self-study can be destructive, as in the myth of Narcissus: the youth whose handsomeness broke many hearts. One day he saw his reflection in a still pool. He had nothing to prepare him or help him understand it. He fell in love with his own beauty, but died because he couldn’t touch or fulfill his love of the image he saw.

Underneath the Narcissus story, and behind the passion for electronic self-exposure, lie understandable human desires. We want to see and know ourselves, to contemplate our image — though we can’t see our own faces. We want to show ourselves to others, be reflected back, have someone find us beautiful and interesting and love us. We want to dig inside ourselves and find creative ways to bring forth what we discover inside. We want these things even though we fear they’re impossible, since we also experience ourselves as ugly, unimportant and unlovable.

These desires reflect a divine movement: God beckoning, reflecting back our true image, the image of beauty He called forth in us. God “bending the heavens,” as the psalm says, to show us we’re beloved. God doing the impossible to call us to this truth of ourselves, beyond the scars of sin — our own and others.

Deepest, truest, wildest in us is our desire for God, without whom we can never find rest. Our need to communicate, to be seen, can’t be fully satisfied by any human communication, by electronic self-disclosure or song and dance or feasting, by studying ourselves or even by loving one another — though all these things may, and some must, bring us closer.

That’s why human communication always involves frustration, even when it’s exhilarating. Whatever we seek is never truly found except in God. And He’s completely beyond us, though nearer to us than our fingernails to our fingers.

How could there be a meeting-point between God the Creator and us His creatures? Only in the one who in Himself unites human with divine. There’s no humanity without God — and because of Christ, there’s no God without humanity.

That’s the intimacy we seek, whether through electronic media or dances in the village square. It’s what we invite through our Lenten spiritual practices. They prepare us to receive the fullness of God’s love without any shadow or cruelty or pain.

No wonder we experience Him in negative as well as positive ways: thirst and hunger, pain and longing, cruelty and ruthlessness. Gentleness, kindness, wonder, delight. And love.

He’s in everything, even in Jeff’s long longing.