who is God?

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"Mommy, will you play with me?"  I hear this frequently.  "I'm busy." or "In a minute."  My children hear these statements with equal frequency.  You see, I tend to think that work is the priority; fun is for when the work is done.  There are beds to be made, dishes to wash, laundry to do, ... I have a long list.  And of course, just when I think I'm about done, I find that the children, who were left alone too long while I worked, have dumped out all their toys so you can't walk through their room.  I sigh and think, "More work."

Right about then, I hear, "You said in a minute.  Can you play with me now?"  I suggest, "How about I help you clean your room?"  While we, make that I, clean their room, complete with lots of prodding, some yelling, and some accusation, I point out that if they would help me more around the house, I would have time to play with them.   Though I didn't put it into these words at the time, I was trying to motivate them by guilt.  I thought if they just felt bad enough, they would help.  It didn't work, of course.

In the sermon on the mount, Jesus asked a lot of questions to challenge our wrong thinking about God.  One of the questions He asked was whether we parents would give our children a rock when they ask for bread, or a snake when they ask for fish.  I think I have, many, many times, but I thought I was supposed to.  I thought I was being like my Father.

I knew God has purposes He absolutely wants to accomplish -- the saving of the lost and the care of the needy.  I thought He was single-minded in His pursuit of these purposes.  I didn't think that He could be bothered about anything else until these purposes are accomplished.  I saw Him as a parent who is so busy with work that He doesn't have time for His children.

In my mind, He had been concerned about me when I was "lost."  It seemed to me that as soon as I came to Him, no longer needing to be "saved," I basically moved to His blind spot.  His single-minded focus was on the lost and the needy.  I was no longer lost, and need is relative.  I might think I have needs, but not compared to others.  I was one of the ninety-nine left in the sheep fold.  Only, I wasn't just left there while He went looking for one sheep.  He was out looking for many lost sheep, and consequently, He had no time for me, not even time to take me to the pasture.

I felt that the only way to get the Father's attention was to work hard, to help Him.  I needed to be blind to need in myself and to focus all my attention on the needs of others.  Anything else would be selfish.

I did not understand Isaiah 43:4, "For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.  I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you.  Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life."  I didn't understand that He was willing to pause on this work of seeking the lost, this most important task, just to spend time with me.  These others, the lost ones, are valuable to God, but not so valuable that He forgets me for them.  He will pause in the middle of His work just to spend time with me.

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(continued in part 2)

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I have always liked the movie Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.  The story starts with the main character, Adam, looking for a wife.  He wants a wife who is "young and strong and had a lot of work in her."  He wants her to be beautiful.  Other than that, in his mind, one woman is pretty much like another.  Of course, by the end of the movie, his heart changes.

This Adam was definitely made in the image of God as I saw Him.  I could say God loved me, but the only supporting evidence I knew for that was that He had died for me.   However, what I perceived was that God wanted me for my work, for what I had to give.  Of course, I didn't think God was selfish.  He didn't want me to give for His own sake; He wanted me to give for the sake of the world.

The first reason I had for believing this is sheer need.  People are in deep need.  There are the lost, those who haven't heard and believed in God.  There are the poor.  There are those who don't have water and food.  There are the orphans and the widows.  I saw an immense amount of need, so I perceived God as a Father who is never satisfied.  Again, I didn't think this was wrong of God, though my heart did.  I felt that the need was so great and urgent that even when I give, it is never enough, and I should give more.

I was very tired.  I didn't spend money on myself.  I didn't rest.  I labored for the Lord.  I kept giving and giving and giving to God.  My prayer list grew longer and longer.  I didn't read just for fun.  Instead I read devotional books.  I rarely watched movies.  I fasted.  I was both proud of everything I had given up for God and jealous of others because they had the things for which I couldn't stop longing.  I remember being so hungry (not physically hungry, but longing hungry) that I prayed desperately, "Please, God, I just want something nice.  Please give me something nice."  Almost immediately, a friend called.  That was about the only nice thing I thought pleased God.

God began to untangle this.  First, He made me buy china.  I had been looking at the china online for four years.  I was proud of my sacrificing the china for God.  I had given it up for the kingdom.   But somehow, I began to feel that God wanted me to buy the china.  I argued with Him, then I understood God to say, "You can't give to me anymore if you won't let me give to you."  We (my husband and I) bought the china.  It is beautiful, and it has helped me to see God's love for me.

God also told me I needed to learn to feast, to rejoice.  Then He asked me whether my self-restrictions were working to remove desire.  I had to admit they weren't.  I still longed for the things I was denying myself.  He told me, "I did not put desires in your heart in order for you to prove how much you love me by sacrificing them.  I put desires in your heart so that I can delight you.  I delight to delight you."

This astounded me.  I had thought all the desires of my heart were bad, and my heart deceitfully wicked.  But the God who created us very good created us with a delight in good things, both tangible and intangible.  Just like I love to hear my children giggle as I tickle them, God loves to delight us.  He created us with tickle spots!

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Sibling rivalry.  Sharing.  As soon as child number two is on the way, these are the issues parents begin to ponder.  How will baby number one deal with baby number two?  Mom and Dad work hard to make sure both children feel loved, to make sure baby number one doesn't feel pushed aside by baby number two.  Then comes baby number three, four, five.  Each family with a different number.

Two children is fairly simple in theory.  One for each side of mom when reading a story.  One for each parent when on an outing.  After two, things are less simple.  You have to be creative at storytime.  Someone drapes along the top of the couch, someone sits on your lap, and you have to peer around a head to read the book.  You change seats in the middle of storytime.  On outings the youngest children hold your hands, the older children walk in front where you can see them.  Family dynamics shift with each new member.  Big families seem overwhelming.  How do they do it?

You also have the issue of sibling friendships.  Who favors whom?  Who plays with whom, and who doesn't get along with whom?  The dynamics can shift from day to day, but they can also be fairly consistent.  My husband and I enjoy watching the interplay of siblings as the context shifts.

Peter and Andrew and John and James loved their big brother Jesus.  They wanted to be his favorites.   Say you love me best.  Say I can sit next to you in Heaven.  Of course, Jesus gets to sit next to God in Heaven, so he really only has one side left, but the two sets of brothers are thinking of Jesus' two sides and wanting those seats for themselves.  They quarrel over this issue frequently.  And as frequently, Jesus reprimands them.

I, being a younger sibling, got to watch this from afar, from Scripture reading.  And I learned from it.  Don't want to be close to God.  That is selfish.  Be happy to be far away from Him.  Be happy because at least you are part of the family.  So you're not someone special!   If you were close to God, someone else would have to be far away.  Know your place.  It's to be nothing special, but at least you're still family.

It wasn't just the disciples with Jesus.  I saw it in the Israelites.  Judah gets to be near the temple.  Reuben and the others across the Jordan chose to be far away, so maybe that's okay.  But what about the others, like Ephraim?  And the new Israel prophesied seemed worse.  It's not going to be a patchwork anymore.  It's going to be nice and equitable, except for proximity to Jerusalem and the temple.  Two are close.  The rest get farther and farther away.  I saw the priests with their special closeness to God, then the Levites, then the rest of the Israelites, then us.

To be honest with you, I wanted to be close to God.  I was selfish.  I felt resentful of my place of distance from Him.  But, desiring to be good, I wrestled with those feelings.  I tried to reason with myself and get rid of my selfish feelings.  For years, I wrestled.  But it didn't work.  I still felt resentful, and I still wished I could be one of the ones close to God.

One day, three years ago, as I was sitting on my bed wrestling again with my selfishness, God leaned over me, and with a smile, He whispered something in my ear, "I am not two-sided."  I knew instantly what He meant.  He has a side just for me.  I am one of those chosen to be close to Him.  I remembered Paul saying that God's wisdom is many sided, like a diamond, and I understood.

I understood something else.  I understood that I might be wrong in my definitions of right and wrong.  I heard God again, "If you are trying to remove something from your heart, and it won't move, it may just be because I put it there.  You can't remove what I put in your heart."  I needed to reconsider my definitions of righteousness.  I needed to ask God for His definition.  There might be other areas where I am wrong.  That is surprisingly very freeing.

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Two years ago, God spoke to me to correct a third misconception I had about this suitor of mine.  I don't remember where I was.  I don't remember what I was doing.  I don't remember what I was thinking.  I often remember context, but it seems that this was like the pearl of great price.  What I heard God say was so startling in its truth, that my questions stilled as I tried to grasp the greatness of this revelation.

God said to me, "You think I'm a God of rape.  You think I will demand by force what you would give me freely if you loved me."  "'You think I'm a God of rape,'" my thoughts echoed.  "Oh, wow.  'You think I will demand by force what you would give me freely if you loved me.'  Wow.  That is what I think!  That is what rape is, taking by force what love would give freely.  That is what I think God is, a God of rape!"

Still my heart argued.  "But, God, would I do what is right if I weren't pushed and prodded and bribed and punished?  I only thought you were trying to push me to do what was right for my own good.  It felt mean, and I felt resentful, but I thought it was just what you had to do because of my nature.  Are you saying that if I were truly free I would choose to do what was right?  Are you saying that I could love you so much that righteousness would flow from my very nature?  But aren't I bad and sinful?  Can anything good truly come from me?"