Craft of Preaching

Images of God

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In my neighborhood book club, which I adore because we're such a sweet, quirky, yearning mixed bag of people, it was brought up by one of the group members that we should read "The Shack," which like the book or not, has changed lots of folks' image of God.

When it was voted down by the group, the person who recommended it said in response, "Well all of you could use a little spiritual fortification," which is more true than even she knew.

We all could. All our images of God are distortions. The closest we can get is through God's revelation in Christ, but as Luther reminded us, even that revelation, that answer to who God is, raises as many questions as it answers. And the apostle Paul tries (bless his heart) writing to the people of Corinth about the foolishness of the cross being the wisdom of God. But even that leaves most of us lost and a little stranded, searching for a familiar cosmic road sign and digging around in the glove compartment for an exegetical map.

The truth is, no matter what your culture or what your context, the revelation of God in the cross and the empty tomb breaks into lives with metrics that we can never quite "get." Even if we say, "Well then, it's all about love," we cannot fully imagine it because we still live in a place bound by sin and death; a place where our love does not conquer all. After all, even if you believe your love for your parent or spouse or children or dog is unconditional, you find out too soon it's not because the final condition on all human love is death. We are stuck here, in this flesh, with these people, and with ourselves. And our only hope is God's love as revealed in the cross and resurrection, and even that will leave us scratching our heads. Our best theologies are merely a shadow in light of God's wisdom and love.

Of course, the good news is that we don't have to really "get" it. We don't have to figure it out. Our images of God will always be a little off, our theologies won't save us, and we don't have to make God an idea. It's pretty simple; it's all about faith, and even our good Lord provides us with that. We don't have to conjure up a feeling. If we do anything at all, we let go in a soft confessional way; that we are in control of our destinies, that our lives are not our own, that we won't be the final say. The good news is we don't have to be good...at anything. We don't even need "spiritual fortification." The work is done and it's all for us, and it's all about grace. Jesus is pulling us into an eschatology mystery that bottoms out in hope. We live now with finitude and limits and law, but now because of Christ, that too is gift.

But still.

We wait. We await a day, when our heart will hobble, whole and healed, when we are fully cleansed, all longing assuaged one syllable of blood. We await that day, no matter context or culture, when we, limited by our own frail confession, are held by a great and arduous promise. A promise that tells that we will remember with clarity one small tune that is no longer half-forgotten.

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