What Kind of God?
(Wisdom 12:13-16; Psalm 135)
I ask you to think of a particular boss in one of the jobs you’ve had over the years and also to recall the different ways in which you felt that boss regarded you. Did you feel he or she was indifferent to you, was distrustful and checking up on you, or was basically on your side?
- Indifferent. She had no real personal interest or attachment and was satisfied if you did your job, but the relationship was all business and if the day came when you didn’t produce that would be the end.
- Distrustful. He gave you the sense he was over your shoulder waiting for a mistake so he could dock you and even get rid of you. This man was not in your corner and perhaps even feared you as a rival
- On your side. He was interested in having you succeed and get ahead, was concerned about you and your family, gave you the benefit of the doubt, and worked to get past misunderstandings because he had confidence in you.
These attitudes about a boss register more as feelings and intuitions than as provable, in-the light-of-day reasons and facts.
Into the place of this boss, I ask you to put in the person of God. And then for a moment, let the deeper feelings you have about God rise up. Not the catechism definitions or the many attestations you’ve heard that God is love, but your inner sense and instinctive reactions, the imaginative seeds that were planted way back in childhood and took root then.
And so our three categories:
The Indifferent God: the one who created all and keeps watch over it, but from a distance. In the everyday this God is not much involved in his creation, somewhat like a clock maker who builds the clock, winds it up and then steps back to let it run on its own.
The Checker God: the one peering over your shoulder waiting for that first mistake so he can log it in the book. This is the God of “You better watch out,” the score keeping deity all too ready to pounce.
The On-Your-Side God: the one rooting for you to grow and flourish and be the best you can. The one who regards you so highly that you can feel the slackness in his line when you miss the mark. The one whose eyes beam and encourage, and whose “no-matter-whatness” you can sense. We know this is how God lays out his own identity to the Jewish people, “I am who am. I am for you!”
Of course it’s this third God whom all the Scriptures proclaim. We read in the Book of Wisdom, “For though you are the master of might (all power), you judge with clemency. With much lenience you govern us. By your kindness you teach your people to be kind.” And then the psalmist who bursts out with, “You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious.”
I suspect most adult Christians would maintain that it’s the third God they worship, the merciful and gracious One. But depth psychologists would shake their heads some and point to traces of the other two kinds also floating around inside. That is, those reflexive, under pressure, first reaction responses: “God doesn’t really care. I’m just another number in the book of creation. The Almighty is watching and a good part of what God does is check off in that big ledger which I’ll face at the final accounting.”
It’s not east to admit such stirrings, but they do rise up on occasion. And that’s why most of us, embarrassing as it sounds, have to work at belief, not belief in whether God exists but in what kind of God. Over and over Christians are challenged to lodge deeper in themselves the truth that our God is a gracious God abounding in mercy and favor, that the core character of God is love itself.
Underneath all St. Vincent’s visible activities and projects was his overarching project to drive home just this inner belief. He set out to convince the poor of his day that God was on their side and wanted their best. And he would do this, as he often says, by both word and work. The task of convincing anybody let alone someone on the margins that he or she is loved is a daunting one indeed. It needs the solid backing of loving care given over the long haul. Vincent knew that a claim that the Good News is the news that God is forever loving us would ring hollow unless that love showed itself in loving and active service. His followers today do their best to operate out of that same mindset, that identical motivation. In the end, everything we Vincentians say and do aims to communicate (“proclaim”) the nature of that “third God,” the one who loves us to the end.
And isn’t that’s one of the best reasons to keep coming back to the Eucharistic table every week. That is, to “get” and keep getting the message it offers. This is the God who in Jesus gives His all, handing over his body and pouring out his blood for our sakes. It’s a message that in both word and work must keep on penetrating, or in the Bible’s words must keep being drilled into our hearts.
Wonderful message for our lives at this moment.