Encounters with God: Images of God: Imaginations of God
God for us
Isaiah reports his encounter with God:
I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
At the Synod Study Conference we were encouraged to think about how our images of God (identified with various academic words) inform our faith, and our thinking, and our hearts, and our actions as God’s people.
Here Isaiah provides an awesomely frightful, wonderful image of God, on a throne, robes filling the whole temple – every room – and heavenly winged creatures, in God’s presence protecting themselves from seeing God, or from stepping in God’s presence, so that they can survive. The background understanding of God is that no one can see God and survive; except that God has allowed a few specially called people to survive the encounter, Moses on the mountain returns pure white and here Isaiah survives.
The real question for most of us today is: Do we have an image, an understanding of God that is large enough to encompass the divine. Do we believe in a God who is more than controlled or limited by our own whims.
Imagine that you are sitting here in worship one minute, and the next you are, in the company of an all powerful being whom you see as a human, circling the planet Saturn able to see the colours and particles of its rings splash across your face. And before your heart completely shuts down at the awesomeness of it all you project through space beyond the speed of light, able to see everything in detail as you go, until you are beyond the known universe in the delta quadrant. And then you are back on earth, watching it form and evolve, seeing every detail all at once as millions of years pass in minutes, until you see yourself born. Time slows and you experience everything about your life again, but with a much fuller context, until your brain seems to protest for lack of space to process.
The all powerful, capricious, self-ish, and terribly destructive being Q, entices you to ‘fix’ your life by wiping out all your mistakes, as long as you give him everything of your life-force so that he can experience life through your eyes, heart, and mind.
Then, without any warning, he is gone; and you know that his own kind have interrupted his destructive interjection into your life, as you sit and sing a simple song of our faith.
A terribly destructive and capriciously self absorbed being, from Star Trek, Q, is one of a collective of a single being who have seemingly unlimited power and knowledge.
But even this being is too small to be our God, or anyone’s, though Q would like to be. Q does not know limits and above all, empathy and love for other beings.
Were Q your God, you would have ample justification for all sorts of selfish, small minded, sociopathic thoughts and actions. Between people there would be a constant battle to see who could get the best of the other, in order to live a fuller life.
Sounds pretty typical of human life, and thus the image of Q chosen by the writers.
Our God is all powerful, and all everything. Fortunately God is all loving. God’s steadfast love endures forever!
One of humans’ most common degradations of God is to assume that we can appease, influence or somehow control God against our enemies and for our own benefit. But again and again in the biblical accounts, God is more than we can ever hope to control. But God is always for us, not against our enemies; actually for them as well; and ever redeeming us from our sins, in order that we can provide that same grace to others.
Encounter with our God
That’s numerous biblical accounts. How have you encountered God? What images of God do you use to interpret and make sense of the world. To make sense of what was handed down to you from previous generations. To make sense of what you encounter yourself, and what people around you experience. To make sense of what you have learned about this wonderfully complex world which is just a tiny portion of God’s creation?
Isaiah finds himself in God’s presence. He is terrified at the awesome presence of God that flows everywhere throughout the temple, with a host of creatures beyond anything he’s seen before. In a simple instant that holds all time to that moment, Isaiah sees himself as unclean, with unclean lips, from a people of unclean lips. He is unclean and awfully unworthy to be in God’s presence.
Peter, fishing all night without any luck, encounters Jesus who borrows his boat to teach the crowds gathered, who hunger for Jesus’ words and healing truth. When Jesus tells Peter to let down his nets again, Peter, not ready to throw wasted effort after a futile night, decides, just for Jesus, he will toss his nets in the deep once again.
The abundant fish start to break his nets, overfills his boat and the second boat of his partners who come to help Peter with the catch. Peter knows three things: Jesus is God, Peter is sinful, and he ought not stick around very long: encounters with God usually do not end well for sinners.
Isaiah asks God to excuse him: he has unclean lips. Peter begs Jesus to leave, because Peter is a good sinner.
God has other plans for them, and for us.
God sends a seraph to purify Isaiah’s lips with the burning heat of a live coal. Jesus calls Peter to follow him, to catch people, instead of simple fish, for the Kingdom of God.
No matter how we imagine God, we, too ought to be terribly afraid of God’s awesome presence.
The biblical stories again and again call us to not be afraid, though we are. And they remind us that above all God, all powerful and all everything good, is loving. God chooses to save us.
Insert here your own Story of encountering and fearing God, God’s grace, and responding to follow, volunteer, to serve God. To hand on to others as we have received, God’s healing and life giving grace.
Breathing clean fresh air I walked with grace, a spring in my step, a new found hope. Just minutes before: The van started to fish tale on unexpected black ice. I had held it in my lane delicately adding power and counter steering the slide as cars and a semi-truck passed me on the other side of the road. At the top of the hill on the corner over the bridge above the railroad tracks far below, the van had slowly rotated a full 180° into the other lane, where no traffic was at the time, by inches missed the guard rail beyond the railroad track, hit the snow bank at the road’s edge and flipped once clean in the air, then rolled twice down the long embankment to stop upright against the trees at the bottom. Glass shards were everywhere, the van was totalled, but we with only a few bruises and cuts, undid our seat belts and walked up the snow covered embankment and down the hill to the inn by the lake. I breathed new life. And I shared new life at worship that Sunday, at the funeral the next week, and with everyone I encountered over the next few months. Life was again a free gift, to be shared in every grace-filled way possible.
Responses to our God’s Grace
Purified by the searing heat of a live coal, his lips made clean by God’s work, not Isaiah’s, when God asks who God should send, Isaiah is able to respond wholeheartedly, “Here I am, Send Me.” Because of what God has done for him, free, graceful, healing and life-giving, Isaiah knows where he is. And he volunteers to be God’s voice for others, in order to give the same grace to others that God has given him.
Peter knows both Jesus to be God and Peter to be a sinner, unworthy of being in God’s presence. After Jesus responds, allowing Peter not to be overwhelmed with fear, Peter leaves everything behind, nets, boat, his livelihood (and two boatfuls of product, a tidy sum of fish). Peter answers Jesus’ call to go and fish for people; to bring others to see Jesus as God’s own son, their saviour, and hope for tomorrow.
Neither Isaiah nor Peter become perfect. Both remain sinners, both become blessed to be saints (God’s perfect people of light and grace). This is what Martin Luther spoke about, and we now speak about, when we say we are all simultaneously saints and sinners.
The question each day is will we notice God’s presence every day?
Will we recognize God as God and be awe-fully afraid of God? Will we, out of love, allow God to calm our fears, to purify our hearts minds and strength? Will we volunteer to let God use us, all that we are, for God’s purposes of bringing grace to other people, all kinds of people, all people especially those who are different than us?!
May we see God each day, present in our lives. May we recognize God and be fearful of God’s awesome power, but in love allow ourselves to be transformed by God’s grace and love. May we step into each moment filled with God’s grace for us and hand on that grace that is given to us, to others.
May grace abound through us to all people, all saints, all sinners, all of us both at the same time always.