‘Who do you say I am?’ queries Jesus to his disciples; their answer, while being totally accurate, was also wrong. For the vision of the Messiah that they had at that moment was different from the vision that Jesus had; and I wonder if that situation still exists today. ‘Who do you say I am?’ queries Jesus of us: the Son of God, we answer; the second person of the Trinity, we say; our Lord and Saviour, we respond. Yet do we see this second person of the Trinity, the Son of God, our Lord and Saviour in the same way that Jesus views himself, in the same way that Jesus longs for us to see him? Or do we misrepresent Jesus, not only to ourselves, but also to those we meet? Almost certainly we do - anyone who follows God while in this life cannot have a totally true picture of God. But does who we say Jesus is match up to the Jesus we actually follow, as represented in our words and our actions? Or are we trying to follow two masters – the Jesus who is, whom part of us recognizes, and the Jesus we actually believe in deep down? Or are we saying that we are following Jesus, while actually following someone or something quite different: fear or anger or money or ….
For if we are then that will distort the picture of God that we have, and that we follow and represent to others. No one can serve two masters, says Jesus, or they will love one and hate the other. Maybe we say we are following Jesus on the surface, and our lives may well be devoted to this following; but how is our faith and our life distorted if in actual fact the Lord we serve is (for instance) fear, and not God? whether we recognise this or not. Say that in actual fact, in the depths of our being, it is not God who is central
but fear: fear of other people, fear of being hurt, fear of getting things wrong, whatever. That fear is bound to distort our perception of God, who may well then become yet another fearful entity to be placated, rather than the God of Love who actually is. We may say we know God loves us – of course we do. The god we worship deep down drives us to say this, in our goal to avoid upsetting the god whom we actually believe to be quite terrifying, and ready to send us to hell if we actually said what we really believed. You may, of course, not have enthroned fear; it may be something else, or it may be that you do truly worship the one God, who loves you (in which case, you may find the rest of this blog irrelevant). In the possibility that this may apply to some of you, I shall continue – but bear in mind that I am using fear as an example. There are many false gods.
So to get back to our god being fear: it dominates the way we relate to others, it dominates how we act each day; and it dominates any real truth that we glimpse of our faith. Yet we cannot acknowledge that, for it would be too scary to face the fact the god we follow is not the God of merciful Love, but a god who is ready to annihilate us (in reality or emotionally) if we put a step wrong. As, of course, are all those people out there, if we offend them. This is a very stern and demanding god; especially if we have to pay lip service to the God who loves us, whom part of us recognises as the real true God, but who we cannot actually follow, for all our devotion is given to the god of fear. But maybe we should take a step forward. We cannot tell this god what we really think; we have to pretend we love this god, who is a distortion of God who is, because our very lives have been built around devotion to fear. But maybe we should? Tell the God who loves us exactly what we think, as though God really is the false image we have been worshipping all our lives.
‘Dear God, I hate and despise you; you make my life a misery and I can never keep you happy. I spend all my time and emotional energy on placating you and it’s never enough. I can’t believe you really love me, but I have to pretend I do. I’m tired of the pretence’. What would happen? Well, there would almost surely be rejoicing in heaven at another person coming before God with a bit more reality. (I am, of course, not in heaven, so wouldn’t like to say what goes on there with any certainty). It would, at the very least, bring before our eyes a false image of god, and therefore at least we know which god we are following. Changing that way of following may be a long term process, but isn’t that the point of our faith? We don’t have to come before God in any state of perfection, we don’t have to try to avoid angering God, for God is a God of love, of merciful forgiveness, and is ready to forgive, even seventy times seven, when we come before him. (Mind you, if we interpret that passage literally, I suspect I’ve used up my 490 chances. Luckily, I don’t).
It's important to bear this in mind, for if we distort our image of God, then the image of God we present to others will also be distorted. How are people to believe, if the god we show them is not a picture of the true God of Love at all? No wonder they turn their backs. It’s important to consider this, for how sad it is if we devote our lives to following God, yet fail to actually ever see who our God truly is. It’s important to see this, for not until we see the false gods we are actually following, can we turn and begin to see the real God of merciful, graceful Love, and only then can we truly begin to follow. So take some time over the next few days, take some space, sit before God and hear the question: ‘who do you say that I am?’. If you think that the answer is a distortion of who God is, then it may be worth finding a spiritual director to talk to, someone wise who can guide in the direction of the God you wish to follow (assuming you don’t decide you’re happy to keep following your false god, of course. It is your decision). But if we decide that we no longer wish to devote our time and energy to a false god, then we don’t have to eliminate that god in order to stop following it. We don’t have to stop feeling frightened before dethroning fear. We merely have to stop giving fear the power, and devote that aspect of ourselves as part of our service to God; to realise that God is greater than our fear, and can work through it. For God is a God who dwells at the heart of our brokenness, and whose strength is in our weakness.
(luke 9:18-20; Luke 16:13; Matthew 18:22; 1 Corinthians 1:23-25).