Posted by: edsohn | November 17, 2008

personhood

The God that Christians profess to worship is a person.  His personality is not the result of anthropomorphization (giving human attributes to that which is not human), or animism (giving living qualities to that which is not considered alive).  We have not assigned human qualities to that which is “transcendent”.  And the fact that He is a person does not somehow limit his deity.  But the assertion remains: God is a person.

This is a comforting idea, as it causes us to recognize the relatability of God.  But as we ponder the miracle of incarnation heading into the Advent season, I might assert that the deep mystery of God becoming “man” is a little less mysterious than we think.  God is a person, and Him becoming like us isn’t such a reach considering that we were made to look like Him!  God becoming man in the person of Christ is, in a sense, God showing us the truest sense of Himself.  He decided that He was done with the metaphors of the Old Testament (king, lover, military commander, provider of the household), and just showed up as a human person as the ultimate picture of what He’s really like!  Yes, God may have concealed a few of his more immutable characteristics, but incarnation is nothing like the burning bush or the ark of the tabernacle.  This isn’t God trying to jam Himself into something that’s not really Him at all.  Jesus of Nazareth, a man born in the Middle East about 2000 years ago, was the most accurate depiction of God Himself that this planet has ever known.

I’ve written about this before, probably several times.  But it strikes me again because in recent days, I’ve felt really, really tired.  Emotionally, spiritually, physically… it’s not like I’ve been suffering through great trials, but work has just been sapping my strength and the rest of my life hasn’t slowed down.  A certain numbness starts to overtake my senses, and I’m left feeling, well, less than human.  Sometimes I feel like a bundle of automated responses, conditioned behaviors that respond and react to my circumstances without consciousness, without intention.  Without personality.

And sometimes, I think my faith looks numb as well.  My concept of God becomes exactly that, just a concept.  A magic black box of conditioned responses, a grand spiritual algorithm where everything just makes spiritual sense.  But what makes people different than mathematics and physics and the forces of nature is that central element of identity.  And a refreshing thought entered my mind: the more I begin to recognize that God is a person I know, the more life it brings to my own soul and revives my own humanity and personhood.

My mind is wired naturally to think on the big picture, in terms of big principles and concepts.  And I do believe God sees people groups, big schemes and plans, all finding the appropriate role in the grand narrative of redeemed human history.   However, letting myself drift too long with big, sweeping, abstract principles desensitizes me to another central concept of biblical, Christian living that became so cliche in the 90’s: a relationship with a personal God.  And by personal God, I don’t mean it in a self-centered narcissistic way, like a “personal assistant” or a “personal pan pizza”.  I mean it in the sense that God is a person, with character and spontaneity and humor, with likes and dislikes, with a loving parental heart and a deep sense of justice.

I take nothing away from the overwhelming glory of God that finite minds cannot fathom.  But I also appreciate movies like “Bruce Almighty” (not for their doctrinal aptitude), toying with the idea that coming face-to-face with God will be marked with familiarity.  Yes, God will shine brighter than the sun itself, but He may also look something like Morgan Freeman.

And perhaps, Christians will find themselves in a richer, more authentic faith experience if they don’t let the glaring light of God’s glory blind them from the approachable, intimate personhood of His identity.

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Responses

  1. Hello there,

    I’m interested to know if you can back up the claim that it’s not anthropomorphism, because you claim it up front as a fairly large premise for the rest of what you write. I’m not convinced it isn’t, and I’m also not convinced that it’s a bad thing, either.

    Anyway, just curious if you had more thoughts on that.

  2. The up and out God is of very little use (if any) for us. It’s more a figment of our own imagination, a projection that, in our minds, “allows” God to be God (as if He needs that!?!).

    How can this God be of any use to us when we don’t live in that reality? We live here on this planet, in this life with all its mess and beauty. We know God not by contemplating somewhere out of our earthly reality but by engaging and interacting with life AS IS. Jesus said it pretty clear: we’re really interacting with Him by relating to those around us, again by engaging life. We don’t need to drug us out of this existence to get a glimpse of God. He is offering Himself to us right here, right now, right where we are in a tangible way. Why look for Him some other place when He created this world as a meeting place, as a sacred space to know Him?


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