The Vulnerable God
How do you picture God?
I know that might sound like an odd question, but I have this hunch we all carry around a picture of God inside of us. On most days we might not even notice it’s there, but what that picture looks like greatly shapes not just our faith but also our outlook on life, our relationships with others, our friendships and parenting and all the rest.
So how do you picture God?
There are tons of images of God in the Bible, of course – king, shepherd, faithful spouse, mother, eagle, and more. Which speak to you?
Of late, I’ve been thinking more and more about God in terms of a baby. I know it’s not even Advent yet, and while I hesitate to copy the retail stores by making the move toward Christmas this early into the fall, I nevertheless keep coming back to the story of the Incarnation, the story of God taking on our flesh and our life, being born just as we are, as a weak, helpless infant.
And as much as I love in particular Luke’s poignant and tender portrayal of Jesus’ birth, I keep coming back to a line from John: “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (John 1:18).
I think this verse is so important because it promises that what we see in Jesus is exactly what God is for us. And what I see in Jesus – from his birth in a manger to his care for the “least of these” to his death on a cross – it sheer, even outrageous vulnerability.
Do you see what I mean? God – the one we confess created the vast cosmos – takes on our mortal form and endures the same joys and griefs, the same hopes and fears, the same dreams and disappointments as we do. Why?
I think it’s because God wants more than anything else to be connected to us, to be in relationship with us, to be, in a sense, completed by our participation in God’s divine life. That’s why God becomes so vulnerable – because the only way to connect truly and deeply with another is to become vulnerable.
Think about it: as long as we’re holding out or holding back, protecting ourselves from criticism or rejection, we can’t really experience acceptance. Because we’ll never really know if the person they – whoever we hope to connect with – really accepts us or just the person we’re pretending to be. To be known and valued for who you are is to be vulnerable. To be seen and accepted is to put yourself at risk. Because they might reject you. Each of us knows this; each of us has experienced this. Real relationship means connection…and connection means vulnerability…and vulnerability means risk.
And so God becomes one of us in order to share most fully and deeply in our life that we might share in God’s.
If this is true, I think that means that everything we say about God has to be filtered through a lens shaped profoundly by the life Jesus lived from manger to cross. Words like omnipotence (“all powerful”), omniscient (“all knowing”) and all the rest – the words, that is, we often use to describe God – have to be measured, sifted, and redefined in light of the God who became a baby, suckling at his mother’s breast and subject to all the same perils and infirmities and hazards and deprivations that every other human baby has ever endured.
It’s in this sense that we say that God is love, because God loved us enough to risk everything to be connected with us. God became vulnerable that we might know God and in turn allow ourselves to be known. God became mortal that we might hear and understand that God values each and every one of us intrinsically and unconditionally.
I had a chance to listen to Brene Brown tonight. She talked about vulnerability and spent some time discussing three myths about it. The first myth she took up was that vulnerability is weakness, suggesting that within vulnerability rests an uncommon strength – not the strength of power but of authenticity, not the strength of getting what you want but of being seen, not the strength of imposing one’s will but of being authentic, available, and real.
So I wonder…
Can we allow our images of God to conform to the vulnerability we see in Jesus? Can we see the Bible itself as a collection of tales about this vulnerable God? Can we imagine that to be a follower of Jesus is to embrace vulnerability rather than to use our faith to defend ourselves against it? And can we imagine that church isn’t the place you go when you’ve got it all figured out but instead where you go to gather with others on the way, meeting at the point of our brokenness to hold onto each other with the promises of God?