Friday, June 24, 2016

The Heart of God

Some postulate an aloof God who creates but does not empathize or engage with his creation. Albert Einstein, for example, seemed to subscribe to an impersonal divine architect. Naturalists such as Richard Dawkins scoff at the notion that a being who could construct such a vast and sophisticated universe would bother interacting with primitive little creatures such as ourselves. Even science fiction frequently imagines god-like beings that, in direct proportion to their increasing knowledge and abilities, eventually transcend emotion. It is assumed then that with infinite knowledge and power inevitably comes a detached, dispassionate, and merely logical perspective of things. The implication is clear: Emotion is thought to be the stuff of lower beings. It seems to me that the opposite is true. The relationship between knowledge/power and personhood/emotion should actually slide in the other direction. Dogs have personality and emotions—humans, even more so. Why should an infinitely superior being not have these same capacities, and even in greater abundance? Indeed, the God described in the Bible is more of a person than you or I. He is said to have an unfathomably nuanced emotional spectrum that is capable of noting, processing, appreciating—feeling—everything from a single fallen sparrow to a world ending supernova. Given this, there is no other way to know this extremely emotive and hyper-personal being apart from discovering his revealed heart.
The God of the Bible is incredibly passionate, creative, and relational. He is not always expedient or practical. He regularly indulges in the extravagance of poetry and beauty. His behavior is far from capricious, yet it may seem so in terms of mere efficiency. He is probably better understood as an artistic genius than a utilitarian engineer.
Human emotions are notoriously fickle. They are largely bound to numerous shifting internal and external factors. Consequently, it is not a flattering assessment to be characterized as an “emotional” person. God, however, is undeniably a highly emotional being. He feels things deeply, but he is always consistent. Contrary to the human experience, his emotional response to various things can be somewhat reliably predicted (insofar as he shares his heart with us). His emotions spring from who he is and they inform what he does.
Through page after page of Holy Scripture, God pours out his heart to whoever will listen. He utilizes numerous earthly analogies to convey the lavish affection he feels for his people and the heart-rending grief he experiences when they reject him. He explicitly likens his emotional devastation to a publicly humiliated spouse whose beloved has sexually betrayed them again and again. Though he is “slow to anger,” he describes his intense jealousy in light of the reasonable exclusivity expected by any husband or wife who is unwilling to share their spouse with another. He also compares himself to a father who humbly seeks to restore his wayward and ungrateful children. He readily and recklessly expresses himself in ways that leave him vulnerable to immense pain. He often references the most intimate human relationships to describe how he feels. He is not too proud to wear his heart on his sleeve.
Remove the emotional element of God, and one would have to agree with Dawkins' observation that an infinitely powerful being would have no interest in communing with finite beings such as us. Putting Dawkins' objection to bed, however, is as simple as watching a new parent with their infant child. A mother or father can stare for hours at their baby, captivated by every gurgle and slightest gesture. The infant is, of course, not a compelling conversationalist. They have nothing of any intellectual or practical value to contribute to the relationship. Essentially, they are more of a deficit than anything. And yet the parent is undaunted by the infant’s technical inferiority and is always eager to engage their child at whatever level they are capable. What transpires between the two cannot be expressed as a mathematical equation or understood in terms of mere reason. And yet it is intuitively understood by emotional creatures without explanation. It is a matter of the heart.
Dawkins' initial conclusion that a being capable of creating our universe would be completely beyond us—transcendent—is totally correct. We, as the infant, cannot very well go looking for him. He must peek his head over the edge of the crib, so to speak, if we are to see his face. It is the Christian claim that he has done just that and more.
After centuries of poetic correspondence (all of which must be seen as a father speaking “baby talk,” as there simply is no other way for an infinite being to converse with finite creatures), the unrequited author finally came in person. The creator became one of his creatures. Jesus, the 1st Century man that Christians claim is supernaturally the “exact imprint” of the transcendent God, spent his days on earth declaring and demonstrating the heart of God—a heart that is ultimately best seen in the great lengths he is willing to go to reclaim his rebel creation. After all, matters of the heart are not weighed in gold or silver but in spilled blood, sweat, and tears. It is in the elegance and horror of the cross that the pulsating heart of God, laid raw, is on display for all to see. He is not a God far off, and it is his heart that draws him near.
The LORD is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.” -Psalm 103:8