ON KNOWING GOD
It is the temptation of most men to create in their minds a "fantasy mate," one who, while voluptuous and, perhaps, even intelligent, will meet his every need, cater to his every whim, and like the family dog remain silent and even invisible until wanted.
My suspicion is that most women, also, have, tucked back in their imaginations, a "fantasy mate": one who is kind and sensitive and gentle, strong only when she wants him that way, passive otherwise, and one who would rather listen to her share her deepest feelings instead of making love.
If God allowed promiscuity, one might continue in this sort of delusion: meeting, talking and loving and then returning to one's own world without the other.
But God does not allow this sort of nonsense. He forbids it and condemns it. And those who choose to practice this kind of immorality do so at the possible cost of their own eternal well-being.
God does not forbid this kind of promiscuity simply for the sake of our eternal well-being. He does it also because our growth as human beings takes place when we are drawn out of the dark, sweet scented recesses of our imaginations, into the bright sun and the fresh air of reality. And there is nothing quite as real, quite as difficult, quite as challenging, and sometimes, thank God, quite as wonderful as one's husband or wife.
My mother taught me a long time ago that it is a shameful thing to be a sissy: to live in fear and refuse to relate to the real world. One would hesitate to label anyone a sissy. And yet, what are we to make of those men or women who, in their selfishness and fear, refuse marriage (and thus the lifelong task of coming to grips with all the marvels and foibles of the other) and choose instead promiscuity (thus substituting the event for the person).
There are, of course, those who refuse marriage for the sake of serving God, as well as those who never have the opportunity for marriage. No one can speak ill of these people. Indeed, the Apostle Paul speaks highly of them.
But there are those who practice promiscuity and refuse marriage because, finally, they are sissies. For marriage brings with it, dear God, the other. A real other. A real woman with faults and needs and hopes that are not her husband's. A real man who is like a bull in a China Shop, insensitive, demanding, headstrong.
Life in a marriage does something to you. It teaches love, sacrifice, suffering. It brings great joy, but also sorrow. It opens ones eyes to the fact of "others" in this world, as well as to one's own flaws. It is, as Luther said, a school for character. It is not for sissies.
I want now to suggest that life with God is much like a marriage. In Jesus Christ we encounter the living God. In Jesus Christ, God has revealed Himself. We are no longer permitted to languish in our petty and false notions of God. We are no longer permitted to pretend that our own private world involves God.
No, the Christian life is much like a marriage. The God who comes to us in our Lord Jesus Christ is real. He is the Other. Our task is not to imagine Him to meet our supposed needs. Instead, our task is to get to know Him as He has revealed Himself, to learn to live with Him in a way that is pleasing to Him. And our refusal to do this is partly because we are sissies, afraid of life with the Living God, loath to part with our fragile daydreams and allow God to replace them with solid, Christian hope.
It would seem a strange matter if a man, once married, did not get to know his wife, but, instead, insisted on pretending that she was other than she was. It would seem a strange matter if this man missed all the goodness borne by his wife because he wanted a different goodness. This man would fail in his task as a husband, and, indeed, his growth as a human being would be stunted.
Likewise, it is a strange and incomprehensible matter to find Christians imaging an idol as if the image, however sweet to their fancies, were the Living God. Indeed, when Christians do this they remove themselves from life with the Living God. And they endanger their very status as Christians.
In the same way it would seem a strange and even perverse matter if a marriage counselor did not work to teach a husband to better love his wife, but, instead, pointed him to, say, the fantasy world of pornography. One would finally conclude that such a counselor had prostituted his or her calling.
Likewise it is the task of the pastor to call the parishioner to faithful obedience to the Living God. A pastor who, instead, encouraged a parishioner to learn to live with a notion of God that was not faithful to God's self-revelation in Jesus Christ would be a false pastor, a danger to the parishioner, a scandal to the Church.
In short, God has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ. And our task as Christians is to come to know Him in the mystery of His divine revelation, in that strange and marvelous triunity of persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
I once visited a butterfly garden at Calloway Gardens. It was a great glass structure filled with plants, heated to over 80° and laden with moist air. It bore, within this tropical setting, over one thousand butterflies of all sorts and kinds.
To this largess of butterflies there was a kind of indolent and superfluous glory as they floated and lashed through the air, carrying with them sudden greens, blues, reds and yellows.
I was led to suspect, seeing this extravagant indulgence of glory, that at the center the heart of God must be incandescent joy, that the creation of these fragile insects was simply for the sake of their beauty.
And surely this notion of God as the fountain of joy is no mere conjecture. For as He faced the cross, Jesus himself said to the disciples: "These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full."
It may seem at first a burden to lay aside our idols-- almost as if God is forcing Himself upon us. And in a sense He is. But this is no burden. For He is the God of peace, of glory and of joy.
And to all who receive Him, male and female, old and young, black, yellow, red or white, there is the gift of joy: joy which, in eternity, will spill over and submerge us, bear us up and carry us before His very face.
It is for the sake of this joy that He calls us to eschew all idols and come to Him, the Living God, the fountain of joy.
Mike Frank © 3/95
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