The all important picture...
On one of my restless nights last week, I watched the movie Luther. And there was this one scene that made me sit up straight in the theater-like darkness of the living room; sit up and watch Joseph Fiennes as if he were Luther himself thundering a sermon straight at me. The scene was merely one of Luther preaching in the church of his home town- a tall, echoey chapel that gave a ring and height to the words he spoke. But they were such gentle words, and he came down from the pulpit, shuffling up the stones amidst peasant and lord, merchant and beggar saying the single same thing to all (please know this is a paraphrase of what I remember and should not be compared to the movie script!): "If Satan comes to you," he said, bending down with a face of mock fierceness to the people nearest him, "and says, you aren't worthy to be loved, or forgiven by God, then just agree. Say merely that he is entirely right, that you are weak and sinful and frail. But tell him also that your Father doesn't care. That God loves you, loves you my friends, as the sons and daughters you are. God doesn't sit above in anger, He is your Father."
And in that moment, I repented. There was Luther, defending to those people, to the Catholic church of his time, to the world, to me, the tender fatherhood of God. I sat up straight in the dark, and told God I was sorry for the persistent, stubborn way in which I have pictured him as angry at me. This is my constant fight, my constant wronging of a gentle God. God gives all that we may know, and be known by him in utter love, and yet my daily temptation is to see him as angry. I come before him cringing as if he were a petty, demanding master ready to throw a petulant fit at my slightest sin. I think it must be a slap in his face.
I have been thinking about this all week, because I have realized that the image we carry of God, the picture of him that comes to us the instant we think of him, is the defining picture of our lives. This image of Him, the face we see when we look into our hearts to the place where he dwells will shape every jot of life. In our hopes and dreams, does he treasure and know us as special creations, or will we be streamlined into joyless service? When it comes to money trust, is he a benevolent father or a fickle deity? And especially when we come to relationships. Is he Love, truly? This inner image of him drives every word we speak to every other person. It shapes the love we bring to children, to friends, to husbands and wives, to strangers on the street. It is not merely belief in the existence of God that shapes who we become and what we do in this world. It is our belief in the existence of a good and loving God that makes his kingdom come here on earth.
This came powerfully home to me this weekend as I worked at my family's conference for moms. Let me just say right now that it is a surpassingly odd thing to grow up in a parenting ministry because you begin to have very strong opinions about child discipline while still in your teens. By the time you're twenty-five or so, like me, you're a downright expert in philosophies of character-training and Christian discipline. So odd, I know. But this I see after three gazillion conversations and fifteen years of conferences: the image any parent carries of God in their hearts will form the sort of parent they are to their children. Their picture of God informs every word and touch and provision they make for the children in their home. If they believe God is a big, grace-hearted Father with a hearty laugh and patience wide as the ocean for their own foibles and follies, then they are able to extend that same grace to their children. If though, they see him as furrowed of brow, harsh, quick to punish, they become the same, angry sort of parent.
I think what so moved me about the scene in Luther was the fact that he was defending the tender heart of God, and in doing so he reintroduced the living Christ to a world that had lost sight of him. This is what knowing yourself to be loved does. I want to do this too. I don't want my own guilt and Satan's whisperings to turn my eyes from the radiant love God beams on me every single second. I don't want to be tricked into the false, furrowed image a fallen world would have me believe. We must all, my friends, must, challenge our hearts to rise to the work of seeing God as he truly is. It means looking at him instead of our own sin. Fixing our sight on his love instead of our frailty. It's an act of creation, using Scripture and faith and a determined joy to paint a picture of God that honors the love he offers.
I think its artists and lovers like that who go on to bring the sort of change and grace that Luther did. Let's start painting.