(De-)Humanizing God

In the months between Advent and Easter, one of the most common themes is that in Christ, God became one of us—human. That is the essential story of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem to a young woman named Mary. As we make our way through Epiphany, we are reminded that this human child, dependent and vulnerable, had to be protected during his young life as his parents became refugees in Egypt, seeking to escape the jealous (and mad) king Herod. At a certain level we get that I suppose. And we get it again during Holy Week as Jesus is arrested, given a cursory trial and is executed. Indeed, sometimes I think that the efforts of some to dwell on the dehumanizing torture and death of Jesus is a way of trying to reclaim his humanity—to remind us that God isn’t just “watching us from a distance” (ala Bette Midler’s famous song), but rather that God really did become one of us.

But then we move into the rest of our year—the rest of our lives, and easily find ourselves stuck in the old habits of thinking of God in largely transactional and propositional ways. We do this when crux of our engagement with God comes in asking God for things (transactional) or making statements “about” God as if God “weren’t in the room” (propositional). The transactional view treats “God as Vending Machine” where I merely need to insert my coin (good works, prayer, etc.) and press the right buttons to get what I want. The Propositional view of God is like standing in an art gallery pondering a masterpiece, discussing the aspects of the piece with admiration and appreciation, but still engaging the piece as an object—an “it” to be discussed and understood. In either case, the God “who became flesh and dwelt among us” is de-humanized. J.B. Phillips would remind us that this sort of a God is too small. This is bad theology.

I know a lot of employer-employee relationships that are largely transactional. I show up, do my work and get paid. But can you imagine such a relationship with a friend? A spouse? I’ve been in hospital rooms where a physician (or a family member) operated on a propositional basis and keeping a sort of professional distance from the one in the bed talking about the patient as if they weren’t there. Would you do that with your beloved?

The God who became one of us is fundamentally about being in relationship. And vulnerability characterizes that relationship. This means the relationship necessarily changes us. William Paul Young (author of “The Shack”) says, “Relationships are entwined, entrenched, elusive, messy, enabling, enrapturing, maddening, exhilarating, frustrating, exposing, and too beautiful for words. There are moments when we think we might finally have a whisper of control over our world, and then—whoosh! in comes someone who knocks it completely sideways.”

Have you been “knocked sideways” by God recently? Do you allow God to get that close or do you hold God at a safe distance? Are you capable of telling someone all about God, yet you don’t really know God? How comfortable are you just sitting and being quietly in God’s presence? At Seaside, let is invite one another into transformative relationship with the one who longs to be WITH us.