Thursday, March 20, 2014

The humility of God - part 2

I feel a bit concerned as I sit down tonight to continue my reflection on the humility of God. I fear that I might lead someone astray by the inadequacy of my efforts to write of God. Who do I think I am that I could say anything of God Who is so beyond my comprehension? Hence, I must pray before I write and entrust the rest to God Himself.


As I wrote in my last post, it is not so hard to think of Jesus as humble. Neither is it so terribly hard to think of the Holy Spirit as having a sort of humility - or at least a gentleness - given His image as a dove descending from the heavens; or the words "Comforter" and "Advocate" that Jesus used when promising the Spirit's coming. Where we perhaps encounter more difficulty is associating the Father, the God of the Old Testament, with humility.

(As an aside, it is important to understand that the Father, Son and Spirit are One and it therefore makes little sense to discuss "them" as though they were separate beings. "They" are not beings at all, as we use the term, but God is Being itself, a notion that we can only vaguely comprehend. There is no correct pronoun, singular or plural, masculine or feminine, to capture the fullness of God's reality.)

Because of the way we human beings have corrupted power, we tend to automatically associate power and immensity with self-importance and pride. Hence, it would seem to us a contradiction that the Father, the Ground of all being and Creator of all that exists (from the tiniest single-cell organism to the vast reaches of the universe), could be identified with humility.

Yet if we open the eyes of our hearts to the abundance of creation, it is hard to think of its Source as anything but utterly generous and self-emptying. Our universe so far exceeds necessity that we cannot begin to fathom it. It is overflowing with gift and this reality itself reveals to us something of the Father-Creator.

Let us consider butterflies, for example :-). As much as I love butterflies, it might be a hard argument to make that such beautiful and complex insects are truly necessary (many insects can pollinate and be food sources for other animals). Yet even if the argument could be made, our planet has an estimated 15,000-20,000 different species of these beautiful, fragile creatures!

This alone, among many similar realities of our universe, portrays a Creator that is not centered inward (on Self) but that is ever pouring out Beauty in extravagant abundance, a "self-emptying" as it were. Certainly the ground of all Being Himself does not need any of this. It is gift to us - and incomprehensibly humble - for we are ever free to reject or destroy the gift, as we are free to reject the Creator Himself.


Although creation is one source of revelation, we are only able to truly begin to know the Father as "Person" through Jesus' life in our world. Prior to His coming, God spoke of Himself to humanity through prophets and holy people, but not nearly so plainly or personally.

There is much that Jesus tells of the Father that helps us begin to consider Him in His humility. One very simple thing that strikes me is that Christ invites us to call Him, "Father" or even "Abba" (equivalent to "Daddy"). That the Creator of the universe should allow me to address Him so intimately is indeed a sign of humility - a willingness to become "small" enough for me, one of billions, to approach Him so very personally.

There are many other ways in which Jesus teaches us about the Father, perhaps none more beautiful than in the parable of the prodigal son. In that story - which is our story - the father gives his wayward son his share of his inheritance upon demand - a demand which is very insulting, given that the father is still alive. The son wastes every bit of it in selfish excess and then comes back to his father for help - and the father celebrates his return!

No arrogant, self-centered father would tolerate such a thing, much less see it as cause for celebration. Only a supremely humble father could love with such utter selflessness.

If you have had  (or know someone who has had) an arrogant or self-centered parent, you will recognize immediately that this image of Father is something completely different.

Another revelation of the "humility of God" is found most profoundly, most intimately, in the prayer of Jesus to His Father in the presence of His closest followers at the Last Supper (see the gospel of St. John, Chapter 17). After Jesus' startling revelation to Phillip earlier in the narrative ("Whoever has seen me has seen the Father." John 14:9), He confirms His complete unity with the Father ("everything of mine is Yours and everything of Yours is mine" John 17:10). 

In these words, we know that the Father's humility is the same as the humility of Jesus. All that we have come to know of Jesus, the man, we now know is true of the Father, the Eternal Godhead, the Creator and ground of all being.

But it doesn't stop there. In Jesus' prayer we learn that, not only is the Father so humble that He became one of us in our limited nature, but that He invites us to become one with Him, to share in His Divine nature ("And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me." John 17:22-23).

Despite our weaknesses and faults, our apathy and even our rejection of Him, the Father, through the Son, and with the Spirit, invites us into His Divine life. There is no pride, no arrogance, in One who makes such an offer.

For the invitation is not to enhance His life - it needs no enhancing - for the outpouring of Love in Triune relationship of Father, Son and Spirit is more complete than anything we could imagine. The invitation is pure Self-gift, pure love. As the words of Jesus reveal, as He prayed for us to His Father, it is all so "that they may share My joy completely" (John 17:13).

It is His joy...given to know completely.

(It appears that there will be a part 3 to this discussion. In my next post, God willing, I will share thoughts about what the humility of God teaches us about repentance and worship.)