There is a lot of value in returning to the most basic questions of life again and again. Asking these questions assumes that we have not yet mastered the answers. It helps free us from dogmatism and the past beliefs we have held that might have been unhealthy or oppressive. If we ask them honestly, we may even change our minds. One of these questions that I often return to is “Who is God?” I most recently asked this question again through the lens of Jesus’ prayer in John 17, and, as expected, I was surprised by what I found:
It is hard to separate my image of God from a very real awareness of power.
So when Jesus repeatedly uses the word “glory” in his prayer, my mind instantly goes to the abuse of power I’ve seen from those in power; the way they demand glory that doesn’t belong to them. When I looked closer though, Jesus seems to be using the word glory in the exact opposite way from what I expect. Rather than seizing it, Jesus gives his glory away. He speaks of the glory he had with the Father before Creation, a glory that was diminished in the very act of Creation. Simone Weil explains this act beautifully:
“God….has in a sense effaced himself so that we can exist: he has given up being everything in order that we might exist; he has dispossessed himself in our favor...
God consented through love to cease to be everything so that we might be something.”
Jesus’ prayer reveals a God who not only gave away glory in the act of Creation, but gave it away in the act of coming to earth in the form of a human destined to die. The very act of Jesus’ prayer was part of his preparation to empty himself in death. From Creation to Incarnation, the God revealed in Jesus is a self-emptying, self-diminishing God.
It is also hard for me to separate my image of God from my own image.
If there is a God, then I bear the marks of this God’s creativity and life in my DNA. Though I think the above image of God is beautiful, I cannot help but wonder, what is it to me? How am I affected by a God like this? I found a shocking answer to this question as well in Jesus’ affirmation that the goal and direction of his glory is to us. To me. The goal of Jesus’ existence does not seem to be just to show us how beautiful God is. It is to show us how beautiful we are - beautiful and loved enough to inspire God to give up everything so that we might be in relationship with this God.
God came to us and told us we were beautiful before we could see beauty in anything. God gave up his glory for us while we were still trying to hold onto our own glory.
Once again, what I’ve implicitly believed to be true has been shattered by asking a very basic question. But it is the kind of shattering that has opened up to me a much more beautiful, hopeful world. We have the grace and security of knowing God is a God who does not hold onto power or glory, but gives it away freely for our sake and for the sake of the lowest and poorest. We need this image especially now more than ever.
Grace and peace to you this week. As you wake up and read the news, keep in mind the type of person who really holds all the power.