Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Huge smile,

I had another of those parental insights into our relationship with God recently. They’ve been happening a lot! I was hanging out with T. We were talking about something goofy, when he made a comment that was both oddly brilliant and hilarious. That’s a good combo, I find, a natural one too. Well-executed humor is a form of intelligence. And apparently, our foster kid is quite smart because he does that to me more often than I expect from a six year-old.

Anyway, I laughed at his comment, loudly and earnestly. Thus, he knew he’d hit the funny spot. So he smiled a huge smile, feeling the pride of knowing he’d made me laugh. Which then made me smile bigger, because I knew that my joy added to his, and that brought me further joy. And he smiled more once he caught that. A positive feedback loop ensued. Then, I had a moment of insight: Is this (wonderful!) feeling akin to what God- our Heavenly Parent- feels toward us? 

Now, we should always remember that whenever we speak of who God is or what God feels, we’re talking in code, in metaphor. To use theologian speak, it’s via analogical reasoning that we “know” anything about God, i.e. it’s always indirect, an inference, analogy, mystery abides. That said, the metaphor of God-as-Parent (often Father, but not exclusively) has been used in our faith tradition for millennia now, and counting. We’ve long believed that this fundamental human relationship has something uniquely valuable to teach about how God relates to us.

And the specific aspect of that relationship I suddenly encountered last week was this feeling that a parent can receive incredible joy from the delight her/his child feels. That joy might even be out-of-proportion with the moment. It was for me. T making a successful joke isn’t unusual, nor was this one atypical funny or profound. But this time, for whatever reason, he was quite proud, so I was proud too. Then I became suddenly incredibly glad I’d participated his triumph. My heart filled to bursting. And I realized that I’d never imagined God reacting so joyfully to triumphs in my life.

I guess when I’ve pictured God as Mother/Father, I’d thought of a tender heart, a shoulder to cry on, a wise teacher, a firm discipline giver. But the notion of God feeling enraptured by my delight- incredibly glad that I’m glad, God fully present to my happiness, and moved by it- that’s new to me. I’m sad I hadn’t considered that before, because it strikes me now as obviously true. Do all parents feel thus?

I mean, I’ve never asked my parents, but I’m certain they’ve felt that way about me. I’ve made them proud before. And now I’m aware how much that feeling is its own source of magnified joy for a parent. Did that effect their parenting decisions? Maybe they enjoyed my experiences of triumph and delight so much they went out of their way to nurture my confidence and pride as I grew. And not just because they loved me, but because they received joy from it too. Does God do the same?

Another way of putting that is- What does God get out of our relationship with God?” I hope that doesn’t sound inappropriate, but think about it. If a (healthy) parent-child relationship really is a uniquely valuable source of insight into God, we should examine motivations on both sides. And answering simply with, “God gets more moral children, better disciples, when we follow God’s rules correctly,” makes God seem, well, boring. And not very parental, right?

Instead, let’s imagine God delighting in our delights, wallowing with joy in our triumphs! In any case, I’m mostly warmed by that notion of God, considering how glad my heart was last week when my foster kid was proud and happy. But it’s a challenging idea too. After all, the driver I cursed under my breath that same evening is also a child of God, whom God would delight in. And if I’m going to celebrate that I make God glad, then I should probably expect the same of neighbors…

Grace and Peace,
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