Every so often, I hear or read or see something that leaves me awe-struck at how well its creator manages to capture his or her thoughts and ideas. I felt this awe when I read C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves for the first time. I felt it at my initial and every subsequent hearing of Henry Górecki’s Third. I most certainly felt it when I first saw (A print, no less.) Raphael’s Sistine Madonna. And I’ve been feeling similarly as I’ve been making my way through Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy.
Before I go on, a disclaimer: I am not the kind of person who reads “self-help” books. And I certainly don’t read the Christian variety. Perhaps it’s because I’m jaded. Regardless, I do not make such recommendations lightly. I would not, for example, recommend The Purpose Driven Life. Don’t shoot me for saying that, it’s just the truth. I was less than impressed by what I read of it. I am, however, recommending The Divine Conspiracy because it has been speaking to me as a Christian who is disgusted with my ‘Christianity’.
I could probably wax eloquent about how Dr. Willard so deftly sifts and wades through so many of the questions and anguishes that have been plaguing me as an old Christian, but instead, I’m going to let the text speak for itself. The following is a long quote, but I think it’s well worth the read.
From The Divine Conspiracy, pp 62-64
Central to the understanding and proclamation of the Christian gospel today, as in Jesus’ day, is a re-visioning of what God’s own life is like and how the physical cosmos fits into it. It is a great and important task to come to terms with what we really think when we think of God. Most hindrances to the faith of Christ actually lie, I believe, in this part of our minds and souls. If he cannot help us with understanding God’s life, he cannot help us at all to that salvation/life that is by faith. But of course he can and he does.
We should, to begin with, think that God leads a very interesting life, and that he is full of joy. Undoubtedly he is the most joyous being in the universe. The abundance of his love and generosity is inseparable from his infinite joy. All of the good and beautiful things from which we occasionally drink tiny droplets of soul-exhilarating joy, God continuously experiences in all their breadth and depth and richness.
While I was teaching in South Africa some time ago, a young man named Matthew Dickason took me out to see the beaches near his home in Port Elizabeth. I was totally unprepared for the experience. I had seen beaches, or so I thought. But when we came over the rise where the sea and land opened up to us, I stood in stunned silence and then slowly walked toward the waves. Words cannot capture the view that confronted me. I saw space and light and texture and color and power . . . that seemed hardly of this earth.
Gradually there crept into my mind the realization that God sees this all the time. He sees it, experiences it, knows it from every possible point of view, this and billions of other scenes like and unlike it in this and billions of other worlds. Great tidal waves of joy must constantly wash through his being.
It is perhaps strange to say, but suddenly I was extremely happy for God and thought I had some sense of what an infinitely joyous consciousness he is and of what it might have meant for him to look at his creation and find it “very good.”
We pay a lot of money to get a tank with a few tropical fish in it and never tire of looking at their brilliant iridescence and marvelous forms and movements. But God has seas full of them, which he constantly enjoys. (I can hardly take in these beautiful little creatures one at a time.)
We are enraptured by a well-done movie sequence or by a few bars from an opera or lines from a poem. We treasure our great experiences for a lifetime, and we may have very few of them. But he is simply one great inexhaustible and eternal experience of all that is good and true and beautiful and right. This is what we must think of when we hear theologians and philosophers speak of him as a perfect being. This is his life.
A short while ago the Hubble Space Telescope gave us pictures of the Eagle Nebula, showing clouds of gas and microscopic dust reaching six trillion miles from top to bottom. Hundreds of stars were emerging here and there in it, hotter and larger than our sun. As I looked at these pictures, and through them at the past and ongoing development of the cosmos, I could not help but think of Jesus’ words before he left his little band of students: “In my father’s house there are many places to live. I go to get some ready for you.” Human beings can lose themselves in card games or electric trains and think they are fortunate. But to God there is available, in the language of one reporter, “Towering clouds of gases trillions of miles high, backlit by nuclear fires in newly forming stars, galaxies cartwheeling into collision and sending explosive shock waves boiling through millions of light-years of time and space.”2 These things are all before him, along with numberless unfolding rosebuds, souls, and songs—and immeasurably more of which we know nothing.
The poet William Cowper appropriately exclaimed of God:
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never ending skill,
He treasures up his bright designs,
And works his sovereign will.
Now, Jesus himself was and is a joyous, creative person. He does not allow us to continue thinking of our Father who fills and overflows space as a morose and miserable monarch, a frustrated and petty parent, or a policeman on the prowl.
One cannot think of God in such ways while confronting Jesus’ declaration “He that has seen me has seen the Father.” One of the most outstanding features of Jesus’ personality was precisely an abundance of joy. This he left as an inheritance to his students, “that their joy might be full” (John 15:11). And they did not say, “Pass the aspirin,” for he was well known to those around him as a happy man. It is deeply illuminating of kingdom living to understand that his steady happiness was not ruled out by his experience of sorrow and even grief.
So we must understand that God does not “love” us without liking us—through gritted teeth—as “Christian” love is sometimes thought to do. Rather, out of the eternal freshness of his perpetually self-renewed being, the heavenly Father cherishes the earth and each human being upon it. The fondness, the endearment, the unstintingly affectionate regard of God toward all his creatures is the natural outflow of what he is to the core—which we vainly try to capture with our tired but indispensable old word love.
This weekend will be a busy one for me, so I doubt that I will be able to say much in the next few days. But I’ll see with I can do.
Hope everyone has a good (Canadian!) Thanksgiving.