Tuesday, May 10, 2011


In what was at one time my brother’s favorite movie, Ghostbusters, Gozer the Gozarian asks the Ghostbusters if they are gods. Ray, played by Dan Aykroyd, answers as most of us would—“No.” After the streams of lightning flying from Gozer’s fingertips attempt to kill the movie’s heroes, one of them reprimands the errant spokesperson, “Ray, if someone asks you if you’re a god, you say yes!” But that can’t be right. We’re not gods. We need God to be something bigger, stronger, and better than we’ll ever be.

What does God look like? It’s hard to describe the indescribable. It’s impossible to picture the incapturable. God is completely other, and yet for all of human existence we’ve tried to bring him close to us—to put him in a bottle or paint him on a canvas. One of those basic human aspirations is to come near the unapproachable and embrace that which created us.

In the Old Testament, God is depicted as that which cannot be seen. After asking to see the Almighty, Moses is allowed a glimpse at the hind parts of God. Anything more would have killed him. Isaiah cries out in anguish for having come into the presence of God, “Woe is me!” for he surely expected to die. I’m pretty sure that other cultures share that approach. God is defined as too powerful, too holy, too amazingly other to be embraced. Humans depend upon a confidence in something they can’t understand—to grand for comprehension.

And yet we still want God to be close to us. We want to pull him down and draw him near. God answered our deepest human longing by becoming flesh—by sending his Son to be incarnate and born of a woman. In today’s lesson from Luke (4:31-37), Jesus is teaching in a synagogue when a man with an unclean spirit cries out, “We know who you are! We recognize you, Jesus of Nazareth. You’ve been sent by the most high God. Have you come to destroy us?” This is one of the ways that the gospel writers attempt to portray Jesus’ divinity—through recognition on the lips of demons.

God is completely other, and yet God walked among us as Jesus. How do you convince a nation of believers who have been trained that God cannot be seen that actually God has become flesh and revealed himself to the world? How can you answer that human desire to know God and yet also maintain the human need for God to be completely other? We’re stuck. We need a God who is all-powerful, and we also need a God who feels our pain. We want God to be a rock that can never be moved, and we also need a God who weeps with us.
Jesus is both, but that’s equally impossible to describe. Some might call it a mystery. I don’t like that term because it forces me to admit that I don’t and can’t ever understand something, but perhaps it’s best here. The demons identify Jesus as the most high God but can’t accept the tenderness and love he represents. The crowds can see a compassionate Jesus but can’t accept that he is their God. Where are we? What does God look like?

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