Rediscovering God and My Value
Who do you think God is? When you imagine your relationship with God, and your value to Him, what picture springs to your mind?
“My foundational image of God often returns to (and gets stuck at) Master,” I wrote in my journal one day. “I feel like God is good and generous to other people, but only gives the essentials to me, enough to keep eliciting service from me.”
Earlier this year, I was in a very dark space. You wouldn’t know it to hear me on the radio, or to see me in everyday life, but I was angry with God. Many sad and frustrating things had happened, and were continuing to happen, and I was processing and grieving. In that experience, I began to recognise my reluctance to dream and I was forced to confront my picture of who I thought God was. For me, that looked like a relationship between a miserly master and a servant.
I vehemently told God that I felt like He only cared about me insofar as I was useful to His cause. In fact, I felt that was true about all of my relationships; that I didn’t matter unless I was being useful in some way. “Are You mostly interested in what You can get out of me?” I prayed.
That idea – of my value being based on my usefulness and productivity – is very painful. It is an idea that has deep roots in my past. However, bearing the weight of performance and productivity in order to be valued and seen and loved is exhausting.
“I don’t want to be useful,” I journaled. “I want to be loved. Just because. God, if You are a Romancer, then let me experience that.”
God always does respond to my brutal honesty, even if I don’t see it immediately. Looking back now, as I continue unpicking my faulty image of “Stingy Master God,” I see so many pinpricks of light where He was trying to break through.
For example, during the long dark winter, the “Sensible Shoes” series of books by Sharon Garlough Brown was a beacon of hope to me. I identified with the character of Hannah, a burned-out minister wrestling with her image of God and self. Hannah meets with a wise spiritual director, Katherine, who helps her in her spiritual journey. “‘It sounds like you’ve spent years calling yourself servant,’ Katherine observed quietly. ‘And Jesus calls you friend, Hannah. More than that. You are the one Jesus loves.’” (Sensible Shoes p 126)
That scene hit my heart. And like Hannah in the unfolding story, I realised I was most uncomfortable with the image of God as Lover. It was the picture of God I least identified with and most distrusted. “I don’t trust You as lover,” I admitted to God. “I don’t trust anyone who claims to be lover.”
There was a lot of baggage to unpack in that realisation.
These days, I am working on rediscovering a more accurate picture of God. God as Lover, even, although I might take a while to fully get there.
In the meantime, I keep my eyes open for evidence of God’s heart towards me.
I remind myself that this is a God who would rather give up His own existence than lose me.
I remember what God taught me years ago about how wilderness places can lead to a more intimate experience with Him. Using the allegorical language of bride and groom, God says in Hosea 2: “‘When that day comes, you will call me ‘my husband’ instead of ‘my master.’” (Verse 16) God wants that kind of depth and closeness of relationship.
I think about Jesus’ parable of a wealthy, kind-hearted father whose son saw him as a taskmaster and acted out of that belief. The son resented his father’s generosity to someone “less deserving” when, he said, his father had never thrown a party for him in spite of his years of hard service and obedience. The father tried to remind the son of his real status: “Everything that is mine is yours.” (Luke 15:11-31)
And I intentionally focus on these words of Jesus:
“I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.” (John 15:15)
“For the Father himself loves you dearly.” (John 16:27)
God does love me, and my performance and productivity has nothing to do with it. He does not love me with ulterior motives, in order to get something from me. Over and over the Bible explains that God loves because that’s who He is (cf 1 John 4:8; Lamentations 3:22; 2 Timothy 2:13).
God the Lover. Not God the Mean Master.
Yes, the Bible contains imagery of working for God. Paul speaks about being a servant of God. But in the wider context of the biblical narrative, I think it’s more accurate to say that we are working together with God (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:9 & 12, 2 Corinthians 5:20 & 6:1). This is not an oppressive or arbitrary master-servant relationship. It is teamwork. (Amazing thought!) It is me receiving God’s goodness and passing it on. It is the overflowing of God’s love into the world.
There are moments when I still struggle with my image of God. Sometimes I slip back into thinking of Him in terms of master, and my sense of value is impacted accordingly. However, I hold on to a beautiful truth expressed in Psalm 73. In this poem, the writer has bitterly complained to God about the unfairness of life and how God isn’t doing anything about it, before he gets his “aha” moment. Then he exclaims:
“I realised that my heart was bitter, and I was all torn up inside. I was so foolish and ignorant – I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you. Yet I still belong to you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, leading me to a glorious destiny…My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever.” (Verses 21-26, emphasis mine.)
That is the language of covenantal love. God never leaves. He is a faithful Lover even when I’m bitter, angry, and totally blind to His true nature and His plans. Even then – even then – I still belong to Him. Even then He is with me.
Even then, He is with you.
So, how do you picture God?