God is Good

 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. (1 John 4:8, NASB)

This is a well-known passage, and it’s a familiar idea. Every Sunday school kid, and everybody who’s ever been one, can tell you that God is love. Most churches have that concept at the core of their teachings. Even preachers who talk about original sin and a distant, angry God will tell you that He is love.

The passage also tells us something about location. Where is love, after all? We can point to examples of love all over the place. We see love embodied in a couple holding hands in the park, or in puppies playing, or in a sonnet. All of these are examples of love, of course, and all of them are valid. But none of them is all there is to love. Where is love? Everywhere, and more than everywhere. Most importantly, love is in our hearts; that’s where we experience it. If you know where love lives, you know where God lives.

There’s also a behavioral imperative here. We’re being told that the goal is to know God, and know love. For some people, the goal is to “win” somehow, which usually involves somebody else losing. For others, the goal is to have the most money. But how much is enough? For still others, the goal of life is escape; they spend their lives trying to earn passage to heaven, or nirvana, or somewhere (anywhere!) other than where they are now. The problem is baked into the solution on that one, though. You can’t really get away from something until you really face it, which is why geographical cures never work. If the only point of school is graduation, you may get out at the end, but you won’t have learned anything over your miserable years of study. If the goal is learning and growth, on the other hand, you’re bound to sail through final exams with a smile on your face.

For us, the goal is knowing. In a very real way, your life is determined by what you know. Action is important, but it’s secondary. Thinking is important, but we can think all kinds of thoughts. If I do a good deed with hate in my heart, I’ve still got some growing to do. If I think, and say, that we are all brothers and sisters, but what I secretly “know" is that some people are better than others, what is likely to be my next experience? Memorizing chapter and verse is a noble pursuit, but it’s only a beginning at best. We are what we know.

When I was in seminary, a million years ago, I fell in love with theology. The word theology means “God talk,” and we certainly did an awful lot of it. In practice, theology is like philosophy, but applied to religion and divinity. So I read and wrote, I listened and argued. And I loved every minute of it. The driest dissertations were like poetry to me. Somewhere, somehow, I really thought that if I hit upon the right combination of words and ideas, I could prove the existence of God in the same way that we might prove that 1+1=2 or that leisure suits were a bad idea. My heart was in the right place, but God doesn’t work like that.

Can you prove the existence of love? You feel it, naturally. But can you prove it, with a chalkboard and some equations? Can you own love and make it fit between your ears? A lot of people try. There are so many books and articles and classes designed to teach the techniques of attraction (and ultimately domination). It might be tempting to believe that if we master a secret formula we’ll have our significant others figured out. But love doesn’t work like that. Love isn’t proven, or mastered, or owned, and any attempts to do so end up leaving behind the very thing they’re going after.

In exactly the same way a God that can be proven is no God at all. I’d be happy to read through some Tillich, or Anselm, or Daly, or Aquinas with you. There’s honor and beauty in that pursuit. But that’s not where God lives.

We find God in our hearts. Each of us has moments when life just worked out, despite all outer indications that it would not. Each of us has been moved by Truth and beauty and love. Each of us knows what it feels like when we just know something in the way that we know we’re alive, in the way that we know when we’re in love. That’s where God lives, and where He’s been calling to us all along.

It’s possible that ancient people had enough of life figured out to get by. They knew when and where to hunt, to plant, to care for one another. But the big question, the why question, came up for them just as it does for us now. We deal with the transcendent in terms of the immanent; it’s not unusual for early people to worship an object that’s right in front of them, such as a river, or a mountain, or a tree. There are good things about worshipping a tree, I suppose. For one thing, you know right where it is. You can visit a tree. You can even hug it.

It might be tempting to scoff a bit, but there are lots of tree worshippers here and now. Lots of people get their sense of identity and ultimate concern, their source of good and sustenance, from something right in front of them. They usually don’t call it a “tree,” though. Most people call it a “job,” but it’s treated with the same fear, reverence, and anxiety. Changing the nouns doesn’t change the experience or the results.

A small consciousness of God only leaves room for small miracles, and sooner or later we bump up against the limitations of whatever we worship. What happens if the tribe has to move, or there’s a forest fire? In modern terms, what if there are layoffs? Not all the big questions are answered, and sooner or later their pursuit takes us out of the forest and into a clearing where we can see the sky.

After a while, the ancients started to look up. Worshipping a celestial body, like the Sun or the Moon, has its benefits. For one thing, woodpeckers are no longer an issue. Certain boundaries go away, too. If my concept of divinity lives not in a private grove but rather in the sky that we all share, it’s easier to believe that we’re all in this together.

On the other hand, you can’t visit the Sun, not even with Ray-Bans. The problem with a far away God is that He’s, well, far away. It’s tough to believe that anything I do matters much to the Moon, for example. It’s tough to feel anything but alone.

Again, this is a popular idea, even now. Most folks swap out “Sun” and “Moon” for “the zodiac,” or “luck,” or “energy,” or just the idea of God as an absentee landlord. The nouns change, but the experience is the same. People, now just as then, develop all kinds of rituals and practices to deal with the distance and solitude. And still, the Sun sets.

Any faith is valid. We honor all of it. Any faith will heal and uplift; faith is faith. Believe what you believe with a loving heart and a questioning mind, and sooner or later you will experience the limitations of whatever it is you’ve put your faith in. As long as you stay open, you’ll grow. God has not, does not, will not change. God is not in process. But you and I are. As we grow in our consciousness of God, we grow in our ability to experience miracles. This is how life works. As you increase your understanding of math, for example, you’ll be better able to balance your checkbook. Math didn’t change; you did.

Sooner or later, we all come to a place where an idea is not enough. There’s something we’ve known all along, experienced just like we experience love. Sooner or later we grow into a consciousness of God that can’t be contained in any object, can’t be relegated to a distant star. Where is love? Sooner or later, we find God where He’s always been. That moment is when everything changes.

When our connection with Spirit isn’t based on duality and division, but is instead a heart communion, the things we want change. For a long time, people asked a dozen gods to grant their wishes. Eventually, they decided to ask one deity for the same dozen things, but that’s not really any different. We have now come to a point where the goal is not about what we can get from God, bur rather what God wants, through us.

If you’re still and quiet enough, you’ll get in touch with something beyond wants. You’ll get in touch with desire. It’s okay if you have to dig a bit to get there. What do you want, right now? Why do you want it? And why is that? You’re a child of God, and, just like every child, you know how to ask why. If you spend enough time with that question, you’ll get to a place where there is no material answer. You’ll find a place of just because, of pure knowing. That’s the difference between wants and desires.

Wants are defined by words like “more” and “bigger.” Often, when people fantasize about winning the lottery, they imagine more of the same that they already have, more of what they know. Desire, on the other hand, has to do with taking us to an unknown place. That’s where faith lives. Want is about getting our way. Desire is about getting out of the way.

That word, desire, literally means “of the Father.” You were made powerful and free, in the Image and after the Likeness of God. You are not a robot. You always have the power to choose. God hasn’t programmed you like a computer. Instead, God has planted desires in your heart. Each of us longs to love and be loved, to heal and be healed, to be free and to set free. Each of us, in other words, has exactly the right kind of homesickness.

Getting home, satisfying the "of the Father” desire in our hearts, isn’t about getting God to show up. He’s already here, never separate from His children. It isn’t about trying to convince God to like you. You are made in the Image and after the Likeness of Love. It’s not about begging and beseeching. It’s about opening a door. The Truth you’ve been seeking has been seeking you, all along.

When you pray, who are you talking to? This is an important question for all kinds of reasons. For one thing, your experience of God is mediated by your consciousness of God. If what you know about God is small and limited, your miracles will be small and limited. On a spiritual level, there really aren’t any surprises.

Some people pray with the idea that God will swoop down and rescue them, and that maybe along the way He will beat up the bad guys. As it turns out, that’s not God. That’s Batman. The problem with the “Bat Signal” style of prayer is that there’s always a next episode, a new struggle, new villains. If I pray for God to keep me the same, to keep me from having to grow, I’ll have the same problems every week with new guest stars.

Some people‘s prayers are about wish lists. The idea seems to be that if the right rules are followed, God will deliver what we’ve ordered, or we’ll attract cash and prizes from a faraway place. That’s not God either, though. That’s Santa. While I do hope we’ve all been good boys and girls, the idea that prayer is accessing a storehouse is limiting. If God is everywhere, where is my good coming from? Once again, my concept of God dictates my experience of God. If I believe in distance, that’s what I will experience.

The time has come for a concept of an unlimited God. There’s a commandment about having only one power in our lives. Over and over again, we’re told to keep our eyes single, that we can’t serve two masters, and so on. The time has come for us to set fear aside.

There may seem to be distance and separation in my life, but there isn’t any in God. My job is to find something bigger in my heart. It starts with love. Let’s do the same.