Face to Face with God

Today I would like to do a little exercise in the form of a discussion about God. What is the image of God that you hold in your mind? What vision of the Holy comes to mind when you think about God? Would you recognize God if he came among you? When I read about the prophets like Elijah, I traditionally have been fearful of that idea of coming face to face with God. But this week, I have been lucky enough to spend a lot of time with my own father, mother, brothers, and nephews and I have been brought to meditation about the face of God. But I realized that if I hold a love for God as intimate as my love for my family, how I could hold God at arm’s length fearful of coming face to face with God. Why would I want to?

So I had to really examine my views of God. Who was God to me? What personification of God spoke to my heart and soul the most? I view God in a very traditional manner. I view God as a father, a parental figure. I guarantee that this is not and should not be the same for everyone. No one way of viewing God is right or wrong. It is how God uniquely speaks to my person which has been deeply shaped by my deep roots in New England traditions. Then I thought to myself, would I hold my own earthly father out at arm’s length fearful of coming face to face with him? Absolutely not.

I don’t have fear in my heart for my father either one of them. I hold love, care, compassion, and a sense of looking up to my father. When I was a kid, when I would go visiting with my great grandmother Standish she would ask me about what I wanted to be when I grew up. I honestly hadn’t the faintest idea at that time. But I did know that I wanted to be tall like my father, obviously that didn’t happen, but I wanted to be that quiet self assured compassionate person that he was at that time and continues to be today. Well I haven’t managed the quiet. I am loud mouthed and talk too much. But I have worked to be compassionate, to try to see people for who they are and the stories they hold in their lives.

We shouldn’t fear God. We should look up to God as our life example. We should find our strength in the holy, comfort in his compassion, and safety in his promises. In our world, there are people who use God’s name to invoke fear of God, fear of judgment, and they use their own hate and pain to fuel this. This is not the God that I know. This is not how God is shown in our scriptures. When Elijah fled from Samaria in fear of the violence promised to him at the hands of an angry Jezebel we don’t see God sending people to slice down the people in Israel. We don’t see God’s wrath burning so hot that the people lie in fear. There are passages like that. But we don’t see it here. This is not God’s first reaction to the violence. God’s first reaction is to listen to the fears of Elijah, to hear his grief, to feel his pain at the loss of his friends, and to offer comfort and care, a time of healing. God’s first reaction is to be present to those who suffer. He lead Elijah into the desert for protection but also so he might find strength, guidance, and communion with God as he began to deal with the emotions that came in the wake of the threats and the death inflicted by the corrupted monarchy of Northern Israel. In his time in the desert, Elijah would pray and come face to face with God asking questions, healing, and finding strength to move forward with God’s work.

When I think of our world, we need to start viewing God less as this far off deity to be feared and more like a parent who wants us to seek shelter, love, healing, and rest in his presence. In the wake of the shootings in Orlando and throughout our country, we need to remember that God calls no one to kill in their times of fear or very human judgments upon each other and God mourns as a parent mourns with the loss of their children. God is there to bring us into our times in the desert where we too can come face to face with God, ask our questions, get angry, seek forgiveness, seek compassion, healing, and the empathy we need to learn to trust and to live again.

God is our heavenly parent. Our heavenly Father, if we sit in fear of God or with so much awe we can’t stand to come into his presence then we miss out on the relationship that promises hope and so much support. God can handle our questions, he can handle our anger, and yet he does not abandon us in our pain, he does not punish us for our questions. He seeks to help us know him better as we discover the depth of his love and presence in the lives of humanity. I know that just as my father would never abandon me in my times of need, God will never leave me to suffer alone and my God, our God, would never condone or encourage a hate that would lead to the death of so much innocent life whether or not they claimed to be doing it in his name. So this morning we are called to remember our scriptures, to remember what Paul wrote, “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise”.[1] We all belong to the family of God. We are all among the chosen people. We are all invited to come into God’s presence without fear but with love, without awe but with familiarity, without fear of reprisal but with a comfort as we might have coming a family member. We are encouraged to ask questions, to express emotions, and to know that in this family we will never be abandoned, attacked, or cast out into the darkness. So as we go into another week, don’t be afraid to approach God in prayer, in conversation, and seek his presence inviting him into your every day experiences and relationships. Just like God’s care for Elijah in his time of angst and fear, his time of question, God will also care for us as his family, as his working hands in this world. We only need to seek God and we will find all that we need to continue making this world a better place for our children and grandchildren to live

[1] Galatians 3: 29, NRSV.