I don’t know about you, but when I read about the Lord in Scripture, so often I’m struck by the contrast between the lies I tell myself about Him and the truth about who He is. On the one hand, I construct a very little god, who is ineffectual and irrelevant. Someone who does exactly what I want. Or else I look to a big, impersonal lump of heavenly stuff who demands slavish obedience and works and doesn’t know that I exist, let alone cares for me. I want both of these gods– someone bigger than me, who gives my life meaning and purpose. But also something that I can control, who does what I tell him. But the real Lord, the Lord I actually need, is neither. Instead, he is both personal and powerful.
Sometimes for example, I worry that when I pray, the Lord dives behind the curtains and has to suppress an inward groan – ‘Oh for goodness’ sake, not her again’. But then I read Phil 4:6 – that God is interested in all aspects of my life and that I am to pray about everything. The Lord doesn’t just put up with my company, He is thrilled when He sees me and you coming. In fact, He runs to meet us!
Or here’s another one. Maybe God has a limited number of good things to give me. So when things are going well, if I’m not careful, I’ll use them all up and He’ll bowl me a series of trials, just to stop me becoming complacent. A friend of mine struggles with the same thing – in fact, whilst getting a massage, she felt so guilty that she internally recited the Lord’s prayer until it was over. How different this is to Malachi 3:10:
‘Test me in this;’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it’.
Heaven too, is something I find it difficult to get my head around. What if it is empty and boring, or even positively dangerous? C S Lewis talks about our notion of heaven as one of ‘perpetual negation…no food, no drink, no sex, no time’, (‘The Business of Heaven). Or consider what Charles Baxter says in ‘Burning Down the House’;
‘Say what you will about it, Hell is story-friendly. If you want a compelling story, put your protagonist among the damned. The mechanisms of hell are nicely attuned to the mechanisms of narrative. Not so the pleasures of Paradise. Paradise is not a story. It’s about what happens when the stories are over’.
I suppose that’s why Milton is famed for his depiction of the devil in Paradise Lost. The lie is that, if the devil gets all the best tunes, the Father wants to unplug the CD player and close down the party. But what a ridiculous, evil deceit! Paradise is where the real story begins. It’s where we meet the Lord who is bigger and more loving and radiant and beautiful and glorious than anything or anyone in all creation. Because I might think that I like sunsets. Or dogs. Or time with friends. But how much more would I care for and delight in these gifts if I had made them? And how amazing that, instead of keeping such treasures to Himself, the Lord wants to share them, to pour out His love upon us. Not because He needs us, but because He is the sort of God who Is relationship – Father, Son and Spirit. Whose love spills out onto us until we have to beg Him to stop, because it is too much joy for us to bear.