perspective

Christmas Contempt

I heard someone say once that “familiarity breeds contempt.” It sounds a bit harsh, but it’s true isn’t it? You see or hear something enough times, and when it comes up for the umpteenth time you think, ‘This? Again? No thanks.’ It gets discarded like yesterday’s rubbish.

For many things, I suppose it doesn’t matter. Some things could use discarding anyway. But what happens when it is something that matters? What happens when it is something that needs to remain?

Earlier this year I was on a family holiday in Mexico. As I do most holidays, I try to find a useful souvenir to remember it. I saw so many things, but nothing really caught my eye. That is, until I noticed a number of figurines Made with Repix (http://repix.it)out of the corner of my eye, arranged, as it were, around a smaller figure. I looked closer and realized it was the nativity scene. You know, Mary, Joseph, wise people, shepherds and animals all crowded around baby Jesus. It was like no nativity I had seen before, and I had seen many. The colours, clothing, and nationalities represented were far from the plainly dressed, brown haired, blue-eyed Caucasian ensemble I knew so well. This was it! I had found my souvenir, but it was much more than that.

As I stare at the colourful statuettes, now displayed on my shelf in much colder Canada, I am forced to rethink what has become so familiar to me. And I confess that that familiarity has bred some level of contempt. The nativity and all it represents had lost its wonder and become simply another thing I saw at a certain time every year [I was blessed enough to see/hear it this many times]. Sometimes it takes a completely different perspective to restore the spark in the familiar. But what’s so amazing about the nativity and what it represents, anyway?

There’s one verse that sums it up well for me, and that’s Matthew 1:23. It says, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us).” Wait a minute. God, with us? God, the creator of all, wanting to be with us? Wow. This short verse dismantles all arguments that God is distant and unfeeling. God chose to become a vulnerable baby, needing to grow and learn in this world, in order to relate to us in a way we could understand.

As if this wasn’t awesome enough in itself, it also gives us a taste of what is to come. Revelation 21:3 says, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them.” Matthew 1:23 foreshadows Revelation 21:3, giving us something to remember and something to look forward to. We are not alone in this world, and we anticipate an even closer and more tangible relationship with the God of all.

Isn’t that an amazing Christmas message worth salvaging from contempt?

God: more than a Loving Father

Try something with me for a moment. Put your right hand around your right eye like a telescope, while closing your left eye. [Helpful Tip: If you have glasses like I do, it’s helpful to take them off for this exercise.] Now, have a look at different things in the room you’re in, and then try to see the entire room. Can you do it? Probably not. It’s quite limiting, isn’t it? You can only look at a couple of things at a time.

I think that sometimes our view of God can be a bit like this experience. Like the hand around one eye, we tend to focus most of our attention on one or two aspects of who God is. We see those parts really well, but end up ignoring the other parts, and the overall big picture. It’s not that God isn’t those parts, but that God is more than them. What are the parts we do see, especially in a Western Evangelical context? God as loving and God as Father.

I’ve been in many church services and other Christian gatherings, and it’s probably safe to say that these two aspects have been mentioned or sung in nearly all of them. Of course, the Bible does say that God is love (1 Jn. 4:8) and our Father (Mt. 6:9), but when it seems like that is all I am hearing, it starts to get to me. And I think it should get to more of us as well. Why? A myopic view of God is dangerous.

I think we could all agree that our beliefs influence our actions, and this includes our beliefs about God. For example, if I believe that God is angry and unforgiving, I am unlikely to ask God for help when I make a mistake. It’s a similar thing here. If all I focus on is God’s love and fatherliness, I won’t necessarily trust God when I face a massive difficulty, because I don’t see God’s omnipotence or sovereignty. It really puts God in a box, and limits our perspective. In some cases, it could go beyond limiting beliefs to wrong beliefs, for example that God is male.

In addition to how it affects us individually or corporately, I believe it also affects our witness. We are God’s representatives (2 Cor. 5:20), and need to consider how others are seeing God as a result of our interaction with them. Do they see a small part of God, or do they see more?

Of course, because God is God and I am not, my view of God will always be somewhat limited. God remains rather mysterious no matter how much I learn and discover. But what about the view that I do have ‘control’ over? The parts of God that I can know? I’ve done some thinking, and put together a selection of other aspects of God that are not discussed or sung about as much in churches, though they ought to be. It’s not comprehensive by any stretch, but it’s a start to get us thinking. Feel free to add some of what you find from the Scriptures in the comments.

  • God as Warrior (Ex. 15)
  • God as a Woman in Labour (Isa. 42:14)
  • God as Mother of Israel (Isa. 46:3-4)
  • God as Jealous (Ex. 34:14)
  • God as a Woman looking for her lost coin (Lk. 15:8-10)
  • God as Holy (Isa. 6:3)
  • God as a Mother Hen gathering her chicks (Mt. 23:37-39)
  • God as a Mother Bear (Hos. 13:8)
  • God as a Consuming Fire (Heb. 12:29)

When I read these passages and others, I am refreshed, inspired, and amazed by a God with a colourful and diverse character. A God who refuses to be boxed in by our hand telescope. And most of all, a God who truly is more than.

 

If you’d like to explore more on this topic, I recommend “The Global God” by Aída Besançon Spencer and William David Spencer. It includes chapters written by Christians from around the world on the strengths and weaknesses of their culture’s view of God.