I’ve heard it said that the most important thing about you is the image you have of God.
I know what image I’m supposed to have of God. I was lucky to grow up in a family who taught me the essentials. God is love. There is nothing I can do to make God love me more or less. God is slow to anger and quick to forgive. God cares about my needs.
I know all these things. But the truth is, this is not the image I actually have of God.
I know God loves me. But I’m also pretty sure God would like me better if I could pull my act together more.
I know God hears me when I pray. But I also think if we haven’t spoken much lately, it might take me longer to snag God’s attention.
I know God cares about my needs. But I suspect if the cause was worthy enough, God might be willing to break me for it.
What about you? What is your image of God? Not the one you would give to pass the exam but the answer you live out of, pray out of, dream out of at night.
Even when we’re not conscious of it, we spend a lot of time acting in response to our gut-level image of God.
If we believe God has better things to do than worry about us, we tend to worry about ourselves.
If we believe God is disapproving, we chase approval from others.
If we think God is stingy, we gorge ourselves on whatever fleeting goodness we can snatch.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus offers us a vision of what God’s kingdom looks like. It is a challenging way of life where we love those who hate us, where we give up our stockpiles, where we forgive those who harm us, where we always speak the truth.
Most Anabaptists I know are passionately committed to this vision of the kingdom. But many, at their most honest, also confess they have doubts about God’s character or personal engagement.
Before Jesus sends his disciples out to live the radical kingdom life, he talks to them about their image of God:
Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
— Matthew 7:7-11
To Jesus, God is a parent who loves giving gifts.
God didn’t make you because God needed a servant. Seriously, God’s got a host of angels and infinite powers. God can take care of God’s self. God made you because God wanted kids, because God desired heirs, because God loves giving presents.
You weren’t created first and foremost to be a servant or minion or a follower of rules. You were created to be a recipient of gifts. The reason you exist is that God wanted someone to be gracious to.
Jesus is clear this generosity of God isn’t directed toward the special few who’ve done enough to earn God’s favors. It’s for everyone. No tricks. No hidden agenda. No extending a hand and then snatching it back.
The entire Sermon on the Mount, the whole challenging vision of what kingdom life is meant to be, extends from this fundamental assumption of God’s love and care.
We don’t have to worry or chase or cling to treasures.
We don’t have to defend ourselves against enemies.
We don’t have to pray lengthy prayers of perfect words.
We are free to love and give and pray and sacrifice with the full expectation that God’s gifts will keep on coming.
Jesus only asks such radical things of his disciples because he believes to the depths of his divine soul that God is radically good and generous. We are because God is.