Five Images of God

Because we’re just returning from a thankful Thanksgiving together, and because chapter three of my thesis is of the devil and allowed me no time to be prepared, today is a rerun of an old favorite, May you feel God in these images.

Images Speak

Words enthrall me. This is not news. I am a lover of words, and words that paint pictures draw me into their world. They may say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but in my experience, the best words are worth far more than a picture. The best words let us feel them and imagine them on our own.

Words and images intertwine for me. As a lover of the imagery words can create, I get excited about images of God. What images does the Bible give us, what pictures does it paint with its words to show us God in ways that sing to our souls?

And–in keeping with the Live Free Thursday prompt–how does pondering images of God offer rest to our souls? It does to mine, when I think of God as these five things.

Father of lights

43160-533652_4624500284437_1219894898_nOr more literally, Father of the heavenly lights. The maker of the sun, stars, and moon. The creator of mist, fog, and filter that never, ever completely block the light of the sun but only amplify its raw power. The one who said, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” (John 1.5)

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.(James 1.17)

I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life. (John 8.12)

The Lord is my light and my salvation, so why should I be afraid? (Psalm 27.1)

IMG_9266I love light so much that none of my windows has curtains. To know that the Father of lights has called me into His light that, yes, shows all my flaws and errors for what they are, but does so with the healing precision of a laser surgeon? That’s what it feels like to laugh freely in sunshine and turn my face to its warmth. That’s God.

A hen with her chicks

I watch birds all the time outside my window. I see them, tucking their heads inside their wings to fend off the unholy Chicago winter winds. I worry for them, as I notice a hawk sitting in the tree eying my feeder, waiting for one to stray. I hear the tiny peeps of baby robins when spring nest-building inevitably ends up in the eaves of our porch, and I watch the new parents feeding their young. I know how hens shelter their chicks for protection beneath their own bodies, willing anything to harm them before it reaches their helpless, dependent offspring.

I know how I still would if need be for mine, who are by no means helpless and dependent.

IMG_5296God wills so much more than that for us to run to his protection. He loves so much more strongly. The image of Him folding himself around me, keeping me from myself and my own tendency to stray too far from the safety of his words, brings gratitude. The realization that He did, in fact, put His own body between me and death brings awe.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. (Matthew23.37)

An eagle

IMG_2514

At first, this might look like the same thing as a hen. Both are birds. Both care for their young in these images. But the eagle does something different than the hen. She fights. He soars. An eagle will not simply protect her young passively, but she will take on any enemy that comes near. Also, he will not leave those eaglets in the nest but will force them into fearful, vertigo-inducing flying. Eventually, soaring.

The image of God fighting for me I cannot even fathom. The knowledge that I have no knowledge of all the times he has kept harm from me is humbling. The idea of him then ensuring that I can go out and fight my own battles, that I have been equipped to soar and dive and live freely because he takes me on his wings and lets me feel what it is to fly? It makes me brave, because what other response can I make?

As an eagle that stirs up her nest, that flutters over her young, He spread abroad His wings and He took them, He bore them on His pinions. (Deuteronomy 32.11)

A Teaching Parent

Have you ever taught a child to walk? This image is so potent if you have. You watch them getting ready. They pull themselves up, and you hover near, ready to catch their faltering little bodies. They venture one step, fear and excitement both in their tiny eyes. You watch. You wait. You want to jump up and keep them from crashing down. Sometimes you do, but not always. They know your hands are always there, but they also want to try on their own; you have to let them. And when their sense of adventure wins out and they toddle across the floor, you cheer them on. You encourage, you clap, and you envelop them in a hug at the finish line of their first steps across the room. You know this story if you’ve done it. You will always feel it.

IMG_3200Can you imagine God at that finish line for you? Cheering? Clapping? Screaming, “You’ve got this!” God proves in his story of the prodigal son that he is perfectly willing to be undignified for us when he runs to his son, robes flapping in the breeze. So yes, he screams.

He grieves when we walk the other way. He beams the joy of a parent when we take our steps in the direction he sees best laid out for us, however faltering they may be. God as a teaching parent makes me want to try.

I myself taught Israel how to walk, leading him along by the hand. I led Israel along, with my ropes of kindness and love.” (Hosea 11.3-4)

It’s difficult to choose just one more . . . Rock, bread, shepherd, but I will settle on . . .

Potter

And yet, O Lord, you are our Father, we are the clay, and you are the potter. We are all formed by your hand. (Isaiah64.8)

He is creating masterpieces. Some of them are more difficult to mold than others. (Oh, don’t I know that.) There are streaks of darkness in the clay where hard things happened, layers of color where dreams interwove. Each creation is different, each one handcrafted perfectly. I cannot begin to grasp the significance of God sitting at a potter’s wheel caring enough about the final testament of my life that he folds in the beautiful and out the muck. Individually. By hand. Again, I am awed, humbled, and grateful.

IMG_6897What images of God speak to you? Which one do you need today to know how much he loves you and is surrounding you right now? I’d love to hear.

Fears, Doubts, Dark, and John 3.16

 

One simple pharisee could have no idea he was unleashing the most quoted Bible verse in history. He just had questions. More accurately, he had statements–for which he never expected the reply he got.

Screen Shot 2016-01-15 at 10.12.37 AM

In our ongoing exploration of who Jesus was through the eyes of those he encountered, we come to one of the most famous – Nicodemus. The things about Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus is that, while it looks strange to us, it should look oh so familiar. In fact, I suspect many of us come to Jesus the way Nick came. I know I see myself in his mirror all to well.

And the thing is, we don’t really know how he left. John 3 never tells us. I suspect that’s a deliberate lack of information. Maybe we are left to finish the story ourselves. Perhaps we are expected to end it as if we were in it. If we met Jesus the way Nicodemus does, how would we leave Him? What would we choose?

“Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” (John 3)

Two things leap out in the first two sentences of this encounter. One, the man comes to Jesus at night. Two, he does not ask questions, as others do. He makes a statement. Who does things like this? People who are afraid. And people who want to justify themselves. Which is often the same thing.

7d22b-315022_2272222758969_1050644340_2543337_1918182557_nNicodemus was worried his comrades would see him talking to this rebel. He was more afraid of Jesus. On the surface, the guy looks so assured. So certain. So positive that his standing in the community, his education, his record as a good guy who knows all the answers will be enough to certify him with God. But what if they aren’t? These are the fears that keep him hiding in the dark.

The dark works, though, because if Jesus is not really a prophet, he doesn’t lose anything because no one has seen him come. If He is, Nicodemus can make sure he impresses him with his knowledge.

But he forgets something important – fear-filled people have telltale signs. One of them is that they sneak around in the dark. Another is that they pose as self-assured know-it-alls.

Boy, don’t I know the drill on that last one.

He just wants assurance. But he’s wracked with doubts, or he would not be slinking around in the dark looking for a man with a reputation for turning assurances inside out and upside down. Do doubts sound familiar to you? Me too.

After some theological/metaphysical wrangling, we come to this.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear…. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light.”

And very quickly this encounter becomes about two things.

Come out of the dark.

Don’t be afraid.

Nicodemus, no, you don’t have all your theological ducks in a row. Yes, you really are lost on your trek toward the kingdom. All those assurances of yours that you’re living right, thinking right, voting right, meeting the guidelines right? Garbage. But here’s the thing—God so loves you anyway. He’s not waiting to condemn you. He’s waiting to nudge you into the light. Stop hiding. Come out of the dark. Don’t be afraid.

See why this story should sound oh so familiar now?

I’m a Nicodemus, begging Jesus to approve my manufactured goodness. Hiding for fear that it’s not good enough, and even greater fear that I know what it is he wants, and it requires stepping into blinding light that throws all my garbage into high definition.

Come out of the dark.

Don’t be afraid.

IMG_0057It’s like Jesus is coaxing a wounded animal out of the shadows so he can inspect the torn flesh and place his hands on it to heal.

We don’t know how Nick responded. We get inklings later on. But right here, right now, in this dark encounter? We don’t get a resolution. I think that’s because we have to make our own.

Will we walk out of the dark? Whatever our dark is? Will we believe that he comes to heal and not condemn? Will we subject our little kingdoms to the clarifying light that shows them for what they are? This encounter with Jesus is deeper than the previous ones. It’s personal.

  • Can’t we love a Jesus who calls the wounded and fearful into light?
  • Can’t we love a Jesus whose go-to is “I didn’t come to condemn you”?
  • Can’t we love a Jesus who sees past our self-assurance to our fears and doubts and knows those are the real question, no matter what comes out of our lips?

I’m loving getting to know Jesus better. Do you have questions and fears? Do you have encounters in Scripture you’d like to know more about? Let me know—I’d love to talk about it.