Let’s start at the very beginning.
It’s a very good place to start.
—The Sound of Music
In the beginning God…
Before I moved into the ministry of spirituality full time, I worked in the field of mental health as a nurse and master’s prepared mental health therapist. I learned many important lessons during those fifteen-plus years. One that continues to serve me well was to refrain from reading a new patient’s or client’s chart or intake assessment prior to meeting them myself. This allowed me to get to know them, to hear their story, to see them with fresh eyes without any preconceived ideas of who they were or what their needs might be. Once someone has been labeled, it can be very difficult to see them without the influence of all that a label implies, no matter how hard we try.
Unfortunately, the same is true of God. Whether you grew up in a religious home or not, whether the labeling of God was implicit or explicit, over the years you have absorbed ideas and images of God that may or may not be true. We all do.
Some of these come straight out of the Bible: God as creator who brings order out of chaos, light out of darkness and life with just a single breath. God as the one who expels from the Garden of Paradise for taking just one bite out of fruit. God as redeemer who hears the cry of the oppressed and enslaved people of Israel and calls them to freedom. God as king and judge who demands perfection from imperfect humans and who judges, condemns and executes the sentence, whatever it might be.
All of these conflicting images and ideas about God remind me of the request made at the end of the old game show, To Tell the Truth, “Will the real God please stand up?”
Many of us still harbor mixed messages about God. Fortunately for us, Saint Paul gives us a heads up here. He writes that by looking to Jesus we can pull back the curtain to get a better sense of God’s identity because Jesus is “the visible image of the invisible God.” (Colossians 1:15). If we take time to ponder Jesus’ actions and words, we begin to see characteristics in him that reveal God more clearly to us: compassion, mercy, healing, inclusivity, life-giving, peace, joy, relational and faithful.
As we continue to read through the Christian scriptures we finally come to the definitive statement about God’s identity. Simple, easy to overlook, almost anticlimactic, but there it is: “God is love” (I John 4: 8). God is not just loving or loveable. Love is God’s nature. Love is not just a characteristic of God’s but is the essence of God from which all of the other characteristics flow.
During times of turmoil, hardship and crisis it can be easy to fall back into the old images and ideas of God that we grew up with and that are deeply ingrained in our psyche and hearts. Often they surface as questions: “Why me? What did I do to deserve this? Where is God? If God is all powerful, loving, caring, etc.…, why doesn’t God ________?”
When life becomes painful, it is easy to forget that God love us infinitely and without any conditions. When we are suffering, it is easy to forget that God is good, and that God’s intentions are always good, loving and life-giving. When we are overwhelmed with anxiety and fear, it is easy to forget that God never abandons us and seeks to bring us to a place of wholeness and congruence to face the challenge.
God’s boundless and no-holds-barred love is what is at the root of our spiritual resilience. Remember, spiritual resilience is much more than just getting through difficulties. It is living through such a time and coming through it with a deeper heart-knowledge of God and ourselves that allows us to live more fully into our true selves. If we are to come through times of personal, familial, communal and/or global crises more connected to God, ourselves and others, we must be grounded in the reality of Infinite Love.
Take a moment to quiet your heart and mind with a few deep, relaxing breathes. Allow yourself to settle down into the present. Remember that you are loved by God just as you are.
- How would you respond if someone asked you to tell them about God? What images or descriptions would you use?
- Remember a time when you experienced God’s presence in a time of great stress or turmoil. What can you glean from that experience about God?
- Try to recall some of the early beliefs, images and ideas of God that you grew up with. Which ones line up with your current experience of God? Which ones no longer match your current beliefs and experiences?
- Stay with any questions you notice bubbling up into your awareness about God’s presence, actions or lack of actions during times of hardship and crisis. What answers reveal themselves?
After taking time to ponder one or more of these questions you might consider sharing your insights with God. What might God be saying to you? Are there any invitations God might be extending to you? Consider journaling your reflections, prayer, and God’s responses/invitations.