By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge
Looking for God’s presence outside of ourselves is one of the favorite pastimes of we human beings. I had my own “Where is God?” moment at my mother’s bedside just a few days before she died earlier this month (in Dec. 2015).
As I watched this formidable and faithful woman, shriveled and helpless, trapped inside her naturally aging body, struggle through the final days of her illness, I asked, “Where are you God?” My mother, by all accounts of her faith, lived her life as rightly as she could. She stood by her family. She never drank, smoked and only cursed when her long fuse ran short. She sacrificed herself for her children and never once doubted that God would take care of her, even in the darkest days of her life.
And, this is her reward? To lie suffering in bed, spending her days either sleeping or crying? It seemed too cruel, like God had abandoned her — and me.
But, I realize that my question, “where is God?” reveals a lot more about me than it does about God. When any of us begin to look for God outside ourselves, we’re not really searching for God — we’re searching for a superhero — someone to swoop in and make everything right. In those moments, we don’t want a God of love who cries with us at the injustice of the world. We want a God of power who can change this world in an instant and make us feel safe and secure.
This is an age-old theological question that we bump up against — is God all-powerful or is God all-loving — and which God would you prefer? We waffle, of course. We’d love to have that powerful God at our beck and call — but can an all-powerful God also be all-loving?
The religious tradition of my youth taught an all-powerful God that would always come and set things right. Such a God may foster feelings of awe and fear, but honestly, I can’t worship a God like that. So much religion of today is based on this God of power who either blesses or curses people and nations depending on how they believe and whether they fear God enough to toe the line, no questions asked.
If we believe the author of 1 John (1 John 4:17-18, 20-21), however, God is not found in power, but in love.
“There is no room in love for fear,” this passage is translated in The Message version of the Bible. “Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life — fear of death, fear of judgment — is one not yet fully formed in love.”
The New Revised Standard Version may sound more familiar: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.”
That fear, that dread, is what we encounter in that God of power over a God of love. But, still, we are drawn to that God of power, because, despite the fear, we believe that a God of power can do more for us than that namby-pamby God of love. We see this in the increasingly muscular forms of Christianity that have hijacked Jesus’ message of love over the years. We don’t want a God that hugs people and comforts people and loves everybody. We want a God that kicks ass and takes names and sends those we hate to an eternal hell. We want a God that punishes those we wish to punish.
That’s what fear does, this Christian scripture writer says, it tears us apart. It divides us. It causes us to see people as friends or foes, good or evil, saints or sinners.
“Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars,” this passage tells us. We cannot worship two gods — we cannot crave both power and love, because the only true power in the world is love.