Today I want us to think about three ways that God relates to us, both theologically and “in real life.” I know, that makes theology seem separate from real life, which it shouldn’t be, but let’s face it, it’s sometimes hard to see the connection between the struggles and joys of this human life and a bunch of ideas with strange names.
But hopefully, we can get a sense of the original true meaning of theology, which is just “the knowledge of God.” Here’s an example: if you get to know me better, and learn that I love dry humor and walks in the forest and pasta and science fiction and gadgets and helping people, then you’ve become an expert in “John-ology,” the knowledge of John, and that makes our relationship richer for both of us.
In the same way, if we learn more about who God is and how He relates to us, it makes our relationship with him richer.
Like yesterday, I’ll take the recent movie and book The Shack as a jumping off point for our talk. In The Shack, the main character Mack knows he doesn’t have much of a relationship with God, and we discover that it’s mostly because he has some mistaken ideas about who God really is, which God patiently helps him fix.
God appears to him as “Papa”– or God the Father– God the Almighty and all-powerful. This is what immediately comes to mind for most of us when we hear the word “God.” God as almighty Father is theologically known as His transcendence — in other words, he is so almighty, so beyond any other person that he transcends everything in His creation. But even in His power and authority, He remain kind and compassionate, and “especially fond” of us, like the very best father we could imagine. I like to think of God the Father as God Without— meaning he is outside of me, and because He is absolutely wise and absolutely powerful He is absolutely able to care for me.
Many people also think of God as a spirit who lives within them, and the Bible says that this is true, that the spirit of God dwells within His children. This God Within (which in theology terms is His immanence) is in a way completely different from God without, and brings us the promise of a comforter, guide, and source of strength that is (just think of it!) actually in us.
But perhaps the most remarkable way that God has ever related to us is through Jesus. God chose to not only be a father to us, and not only be a spirit within us, but to be a brother beside us. This theologically speaking is God’s incarnation, and it is simply amazing: the infinite creator chose to live as an ordinary man. Really, just a common, ordinary man.
That’s what I truly loved about Avraham Aviv Alush playing Jesus in The Shack. He was just a young guy wearing jeans and a shirt, just like anyone else you would meet walking down the street. He didn’t have this mysterious aura of peace or mystic wisdom or foreboding or guru clothing or followers all around him— he was just a guy, and I realized that’s exactly who Jesus would be if he was my friend today, because that’s exactly who he was was back in Israel, he was just a guy, laughing and talking and eating and crying and working and hanging out, being fully human, so much that you couldn’t even see anything special or different about him until you really got to know him.
Can you imagine just taking a walk beside your best friend, and you think to yourself, “He’s a cool guy, he’s a good friend, and He’s the most powerful being in the universe.” That’s truly who Jesus was, and who Jesus is– God beside us.
How greatly loved we are, that God in His great love is both within us, without us, and beside us. Live in the grace and blessing of that truth today.