Many churches sing the hymn, “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy,” but the church is not always generous in dispensing it. God does not dole out mercy like cookies only for good, repentant children. God’s mercy is not conditioned by our response. God is mercy. So, wide is wider than we guess.
– David Buttrick from The Mystery and the Passion
Reading this passage reminded me of the book by J.B. Phillips Your God is Too Small. Many of us conceive of God loving the type of people we love, people who think like us and maybe even look like us. I am pretty sure that the KKK thought that God was white. This leads to a very limited view of the One who created the diversity of humankind and the complexity of the universe.
I used to go on retreats in beautiful places – Malibu, Montecito and Los Altos – with a wise friend, who said, “God is big and God is smart.” His idea of a Higher Power was certainly greater than you or me. On the north shore of Oahu, a fellow came up with a design that has become very popular on bumper stickers and t-shirts: He>i. It means, “He/God is greater than I. (I am thinking of creating a t-shirt that reads, “She>i” in the interest of being a little more representative of God. There are a number of female images for God in Jewish and Christian scripture. Why not She as well?)
Furthermore, 1 John 4:7-8 says, “God is love.” God shows active good will toward everyone. This is tough love at times and encouragement at other times. My best example of this came in the form of my parents, who used both kinds of love in raising my brother and me. They were not perfect, but they did the best they could. The way I see it, they embodied God’s love for me. Did I say God’s love is for everyone? Yes, God’s love is for our personal and global enemies too. Who knows if it might be tough love or not?
A famous theologian Kart Barth was fielding questions from the audience after his lecture on the campus of the University of Chicago in 1962. An audacious student asked him if he could summarize his life’s work in theology in one sentence. The audience gasped, because Barth was a sophisticated, systematic theologian. Barth did not hesitate. “Yes,” he said. “In the words of a song I learned at my mother’s knee: ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.'”
It seems like I am more willing these days to relax into the simplicity of our language, as well as the ineffable mystery of who God is to me. There are so many names and images in sacred texts, like facets of a diamond, showing different divine characteristics. Even so, language is inadequate to describe God. God is big. How beautiful!