Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The gentle God

One of the things about God that I wrestle with is his determination to make me into a human being, a person.  It often seems like this great project of his leads down long, winding roads which surely don't get to the point, or at least don't get there very quickly, and involve me in lots of heartache along the way.  I wish he would short-circuit the process.

Why, for example, does God not just kill off sin in us the moment we first turn to him?  Why does he not make vocation blindingly clear to us the moment we first ask?  Why does he let us, individually and collectively as families and churches, muddle through decision making processes and get it wrong more often than not, when he could just signpost the way clearly - with a voice from heaven perhaps?

I think at least part of the reason is that God will have his human creations as humans, as real relational counterparts to himself.  This does not imply, as more liberal theology has always thought, that God gives human beings radical autonomy, that they stand outside his sovereignty, that they are able to ultimately defy his will.  No, God is God.  But he is God with us in a particular way.

T.F. Torrance commented on the Patristic understanding of the Holy Spirit thus: "If it is only the almighty who can be infinitely gentle, the Holy Spirit may well be characterised as the gentleness of God the Father Almighty."  The way God governs his human creation is through the gentleness of the Holy Spirit.

When we think of the Spirit we usually reach for the dramatic things: Philip whisked away to Azotus, missionary endeavours directed by audible voices from God or prophetic words, healings, tongues of fire.  That the Spirit did and does these things is undeniable, to those who take the Scriptures seriously.  It is not for nothing that he is associated with fire.

But he is also dove.  He is also breath.  He is gentleness.

The Spirit of the Creator God is not in the business of continually over-riding the will and the thought and the judgement of the creatures he made.  He gave us those things!  And he wills that we should use them, that we should be trained in life and godliness, not just magically transformed into the final product.  He wants us to be people.

When faced with a difficult decision, I want God to take it out of my hands.  Lord, just make it clear to me.  Show me your will in a way that I can't dispute or question.  Instead he usually leaves me to pray and think and chat it through with others - and then make a call.  He wants me to be a human being.  Part of that is using my created faculties.  Part of it is also trusting him in a bigger, deeper way: not trusting him to signpost everything in my life, but trusting him to hold me whether I get it right or wrong, trusting him to gently weave even my nonsense into his greater story.  To trust, I suppose, not just the fire of the Spirit's immediate and obvious leading and equipping, but also the Spirit brooding over the waters, the gentle breath of the Spirit in the everyday and the normal.

I feel the burden of responsibility that comes with being human.  I would often prefer it if God would just over-ride my humanity.  But instead he gently takes our very human processes and practices and faculties and softly but surely brings us into his way, through our mistakes and failings as often as not.