June 23, 2019 Harry Potter #2 …. The Nature of God
There’s an Indian parable I’m pretty sure we’ve all heard before. But I’d like to begin today reading a poem version written by John Godfrey Saxe in the 1800’s. For the kids listening, I want you to imagine 6 blind people going up to an elephant and trying to figure out what an elephant looks like just based on what they’re feeling. Do you think they’d all come up with the same description? (Scroll down to see poem printed below)
I love this story and certainly this fable has often been used as a wonderful allegory for our limited understandings of God. I’m leading a book study on, Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle as a beginning devotional time with the deacons each month. And the very first chapter in the book is about our images for God. Boyle opens the book with these words. “God can get tiny, if we’re not careful. I’m certain we all have an image of God that becomes the touchstone, the controlling principle, to which we return when we stray.”
I was curious, sitting around the table that evening at our meeting, discussing chapter 1, how we all saw God. And so we shared with one another some of the primary images for God that we have found meaningful. And as you would expect, the images varied according to the individuals.
Images for God, images for Christ, abound. Maybe when you think of Jesus the first word that comes to mind is Friend. Or Teacher. Or Savior, the one who saves us from the fallenness of this world, who saves us from ourselves. Or maybe it’s God we connect to most intimately through the image of Healer. Or Creator. Or Judge, the being that’s always looking over our shoulder, keeping track when we put a toe out of line. Often a powerful image is of God as a parent, but our own parents tend to shape how we experience God’s parenting presence – if our parents were abusive or cold or neglectful we might experience God as a distant, powerless, or absent parental figure. If our earthly parents were or are supportive, nurturing…healthy, then our parental image of God is usually healthier too.
Last week I talked with the children about just a few of the ancient images of Christ we used to find in the church – the phoenix and unicorn among others. Animals have long been seen as symbols for, or aspects of the divine nature of God or Christ. And even maybe today when you see a deer or an eagle you think of God. The Narnia books, pulling on the book of Revelation, brought to life the image of lion as God in the form of Aslan.
Images are important. For many they are essential in the living out of our faith. There is often a need to have the more concrete, tangible picture of God in order to be able to connect in a way that feels more real. But here’s the thing about images. They are also necessarily incomplete. Each image reveals truth, yes. But reveals only a sliver of an infinitely larger whole. No image can even come close to capturing the essence of God. Boyle closes chapter 1 writing, “God, I guess, is more expansive than every image we think rhymes with God. How much greater is the God we have than the one we think we have.” In that way, the best we can do is to put all our rich diversity of images together and know that in this dizzying profuseness, we come a little bit closer in our understanding of who God is then when we stand on our own small handful of careworn and comfortable images.